Asbestos-related disease does not reveal itself until many years after airborne exposure to the toxic fibers, which were present in a host of construction materials and auto parts in the 20th Century. Asbestos causes a host of serious health problems, including mesothelioma, an aggressive terminal cancer.
In the first waves of complaints that were filed, we were seeing mostly workers who had become ill decades after working closely with materials containing the substance. Today, those cases are still being filed, but we have also seen the emergence of another kind of case: secondary exposure.
This is when another person, usually a relative, of the worker who was exposed also claims exposure via daily contact with the fibers present on the worker’s clothes. Often, these claims are filed by spouses of workers, who often laundered these asbestos-ridden clothes, and children of workers, who greeted their parent with a hug as they returned home, before cleaning up.
Unfortunately, it can be tougher for these individuals to obtain compensation because it is more difficult to prove defendants owed any duty of care to a third party.
This was alleged in the recent case of Palmer v. 999 Quebec, Inc., before the North Dakota Supreme Court.
Plaintiff in this case sued dozens of defendants, alleging liability for her deceased husband’s illness and death due to mesothelioma.
Her husband was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1955. His father for years in the 1960s and 1970s worked at a company called Kuettel, that supplied and installed insulation products that contained insulation. The insulation material contained asbestos, as was common at the time. Most of these jobs were in Minnesota, though they also supplied and installed products at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Plaintiff alleged that each night when her father-in-law returned home from work, her husband would come in contact with his father’s dusty work clothes. In elementary school, he routinely would hug his father after his father came home from work, before he washed his work clothes. He also reportedly played in the laundry area where his mother washed his father’s work clothes each day.
Plaintiff alleged defendants should have warned either the father or the son of the dangerous nature of asbestos or products that contained them.
Defense moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no duty of care to warn the child about the asbestos because no special relationship existed between them. Further, defense argued no liability for the injury because it didn’t actually manufacture the products that contained asbestos. It only supplied and installed them.
District court granted defense motion for summary judgment on both grounds and dismissed plaintiff’s action.
She appealed, and the North Dakota Supreme Court weighed in, noting the issue of duty of care in secondary or “take-home” asbestos exposure was a matter of first impression for this court.
The court took into consideration how other courts have weighed the issue. As our Charlotte asbestos injury lawyers know, for example, New Jersey, Washington state and Tennessee have imposed a duty on defendants in secondary asbestos exposure cases where there was foreseeability of plaintiff’s injury. However, several other states, including New York, Georgia, Michigan and Delaware, focus on the lack of relationship between the parties in holding the property owners and employers don’t owe a duty to secondary asbestos plaintiffs.
Ultimately, the court ruled there was no evidence presented from which it could be concluded defense owed a duty of care to plaintiff’s deceased husband.
Thus, summary judgment for defense was upheld.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Palmer v. 999 Quebec, Inc., Jan. 15, 2016, North Dakota Supreme Court
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