California Supreme Court Expands Employer Liability for Asbestos Cases

Employer Liability

Employers are responsible for providing a reasonably safe environment for their workers.  If they fail to do so, they can face legal liability if an employee is injured and files a lawsuit in response.  Employer liability is a legal concept that’s nearly universally accepted.  However, courts in different jurisdictions have and will continue to make decisions that change the scope of employer liability.  That’s what occurred recently in California.  The state’s Supreme Court expanded the scope of employer liability with regards to asbestos lawsuits.  The court ruled that members of the households of workers who brought asbestos fibers home on their clothing can file lawsuits against the employers of those workers.  This marks a change in policy from existing law.  It could lead to asbestos lawyers filing claims against companies that allegedly allowed this type of exposure.

About Asbestos

People have filed asbestos lawsuits against different parties for decades.  Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that exist in fiber form.  These fibers are extremely resistant to heat, fire and different types of chemical reactions.  As such, they became extremely popular in different industries.  Examples of where asbestos could be found at the height of its prevalence included:

  • Tiles
  • Cement
  • Textiles
  • Automobile brake pads
  • Construction materials
  • Ships
  • Insulation
  • Fireproofing materials

There were several other applications, but these are examples of products that may have come into contact with individuals.  Asbestos was used most prominently during World War II and continued at high volumes until the 1970’s.

About Asbestos Exposure

People who are exposed to asbestos fibers inhale them.  Many people do not notice when this is happening.  When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they settle in and around the lungs.  The body is not able to expel these fibers.  These fibers cause enough damage on the cellular level that tumors can form.  Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to the following conditions:

  • Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is directly tied to asbestos exposure.  There is no cure for mesothelioma.  It can take up to 50 years for mesothelioma to develop after exposure to asbestos.  Fewer than 10 percent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma survive for five years.
  • Lung cancer – Lung cancer is in many ways similar to mesothelioma, but it is not as directly tied to asbestos exposure.  The latency period for lung cancer is shorter than mesothelioma, but unfortunately the outcome is generally similar.  If lung cancer is not discovered until it has metathesized, the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.
  • Asbestosis – Asbestosis is obviously tied directly to asbestos exposure.  It differs from mesothelioma in that asbestosis involves asbestos fibers lodging in the lung’s air sacs.  Mesothelioma involves fibers lodging in the lining of the lungs.  Asbestosis is not necessarily fatal by itself unless it progresses to the point where cancer develops.

The federal government began to ban the use of asbestos in the 1970’s.  However, since the diseases linked to asbestos exposure can take decades to present themselves in the form of symptoms, it’s estimated that 20 million people remain at-risk for developing some form of health problem as a result of it.  According to MesotheliomaHelp.org, approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year.

About Asbestos Litigation in General

Since people began to learn about the dangers of asbestos, hundreds of thousands of individual asbestos lawsuits have been filed, many under the theory of employer liability.  Jury verdicts and settlements have led to billions of dollars in damages being awarded and paid to plaintiffs.  Many companies that were found liable for asbestos exposure filed for bankruptcy protection.  A large number of those companies were required to set up trust funds to compensate victims of asbestos exposure as part of their bankruptcy protection plan.

About the California Supreme Court’s Employer Liability Decision

The California Supreme Court recently weighed in on a question relating to the scope of employer liability in asbestos exposure cases.  Generally speaking, courts have been willing to award damages to plaintiffs in these lawsuits who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace.  The scope of liability, however, ended with that worker.  Family members and others who were exposed to asbestos fibers that traveled home on a worker’s clothing, for example, could not seek damages from that worker’s employer even if that household member was ultimately diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.

That all changed with the California Supreme Court’s recent decision.  The ruling stemmed from two individual cases that were filed because household members of workers who were exposed to asbestos were diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Both of those plaintiffs died relatively soon after those diagnoses.  The Supreme Court held that household members could file asbestos lawsuits and recover damages because of asbestos exposure brought about by the presence of these fibers on clothing.  The court specifically defined the people who could seek employer liability in this manner to what it termed an “identifiable category of people” that only includes those who lived in the homes of these workers.  Those interested in reading the entire decision can find it here.

What the Asbestos Lawsuit Ruling Means

The court found that employers have a duty of reasonable care to prevent workers from carrying asbestos fibers home on their clothing.  It means that people who were not specifically exposed to asbestos in the workplace can now file lawsuits against the parties responsible for this level of exposure.  In limiting the scope of employer liability to fellow members of a household, the decision excludes others who may have been exposed to asbestos fibers on a secondary level.

The decision also creates the possibility for other family members who have been exposed to asbestos fibers on a fellow household member’s clothing to hold those responsible for this exposure accountable.  If you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos in this manner and suffered as a result, you need to take a stand to protect your legal rights.  Contact the asbestos lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys today to schedule a free initial consultation.

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