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Employer Owes No Duty to Protect Employees’ Family Members From Secondary Exposure To Asbestos


The daughter/sister of two independent contractors hired to install asbestos insulation in a Ford plant in the 1950s was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2004.  She was responsible for doing her father’s and brother’s laundry at the time they were installing the asbestos. She alleged that her father and brother brought asbestos dust home on their clothing, which had to be shaken out prior to being laundered, and that the asbestos dust to which she was thus exposed caused the mesothelioma. She sued Ford for negligence.

 

A jury found Ford 5% liable and awarded the plaintiff damages. Ford appealed.

 

The appellate court reversed, holding that an employer has no duty to protect family members of employees from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of the employer’s business.

 

A property owner’s duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition is generally owed to persons who it is reasonably foreseeable might be injured as a result of the owner’s conduct. The court held that even if it was foreseeable to Ford that its employees could be exposed to asbestos dust as a result of the work performed on its premises, the connection between Ford's conduct in having the work performed and the injury suffered by an employee's family member off of the premises is far more attenuated. Therefore, the employer did not owe a duty to protect the employees' or contractors' family members from “take-home” asbestos exposure.

 

Further, policy considerations may dictate that a cause of action should not be sanctioned no matter how foreseeable the risk. The court held that even assuming a property owner can reasonably be expected to foresee the risk of latent disease to employees' family members secondarily exposed to asbestos used on its premises, it would be too difficult to define which family members to whom a duty would be owed. Additionally, where clothing is concerned, a duty to protect from secondary exposure could theoretically extend to fellow commuters and anyone performing laundry services. The potential scope of the duty is too large.

 

See: Campbell v. Ford Motor Co., 2012 WL 1820919 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. May 21, 2012) (not designated for publication).

 

 

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