Virginia Holds Employers Liable for Secondary Asbestos Exposure
Last week, a Virginia Supreme Court ruled Employer liable for family asbestos exposure. It said that an employer has a duty to protect the family members of its employees from potentially being exposed to asbestos dust and fibers can are brought home on the clothes of the employee.
Thereby, Virginia joins California, Louisiana, Delaware, and Washington as states that recognize so-called “take-home liability” in regards to secondary asbestos exposure.
In ruling that Employer liable for family asbestos exposure, the justices released the following statement after their deliberation:
“In response to a certified question of Virginia law from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that this Court exercise jurisdiction pursuant to Article VI, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia and Rule 5:40, the question as restated being: Does an employer owe a duty of care to a family member who alleges exposure to asbestos from the work clothes of an employee, where the family member alleges the employer’s negligence allowed asbestos fibers to be regularly transported away from the place of employment to the employee’s home? The restated question is answered in the affirmative.”
The case that prompted the decision was that of Wanda Quisenberry, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2013 after being exposed to toxic dust from her husband’s work clothes for nearly 20 years (1950-1969).
Her husband worked at the Newport News Shipyard and was exposed to asbestos nearly every day during his tenure there.
The original complaint, brought by Quisenberry’s son, alleged that “the Shipyard was negligent in choosing not to exercise reasonable care to, among other things, sufficiently warn workers not to wear work clothes home; educate workers about safeguards such as coveralls; provide a locker room, showers, or laundry service; and adhere to various statutes, regulations, and guidelines.” It went on to state that the negligence resulted in Wanda’s death.
Further analysis of the case by the VA Supreme Court resulted in the following statement.
“Nobody is permitted by the law to create with impunity a stumbling block, a trap, a snare or a pitfall for the feet of those rightfully proceeding on their way. The innocent cohabitator represents the quintessential class of persons ‘rightfully proceeding on their way’ yet placed in a ‘given area of danger.’ Because we find a duty does indeed lie to such persons in the recognizable and foreseeable area of risk, we answer the certified question, as restated, in the affirmative.”
Shipyard workers – both military and civilian – have historically been among those most affected by exposure to asbestos. About one-third of all cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. each year are among Naval veterans or shipyard employees who were exposed to asbestos aboard America’s seafaring vessels or while constructing those vessels, both in times of war and times of peace.
Though the U.S. military cannot be sued by mesothelioma victims for compensation, companies that made the asbestos-containing products used by the Navy have indeed been sued by scores of veterans and shipyard workers, with many achieving a positive end result, though no one will ever be able to restore their health.