Secondhand Asbestos Suits Continue to Increase

An article posted on Law.com points out that the number of lawsuits stemming from “take-home” or secondhand asbestos exposure continues to grow, especially as states pass laws which allow families of workers who inadvertently bring asbestos home on clothes to file their own claims against the employer.

According to the article, the increase in number is largely due to lawsuits brought about by women who were exposed while performing household tasks, such as laundry, for husbands, fathers, and grandfathers who worked with asbestos-containing materials on a daily basis.

“We are absolutely seeing more of these take-home cases,” said James Nowak, who defends companies in toxic tort cases and is currently handling a number of lawsuits concerning asbestos taken home from the workplace.

“I think that in regard to the take-home cases, [the courts] are leaning towards the plaintiffs bar,” Nowak said.

Attorney Timothy Corriston of New Jersey says that “at the heart of these cases is determining whether secondhand exposure is sufficient enough to cause a disease.”

Meanwhile, he added, employers are concerned about this new frontier of asbestos litigation “because it opens up a whole other class of potential plaintiffs.”

Other attorneys, however, say the admission of guilt in secondhand cases is important and that the suits are long overdue.

“Essentially, this is an emerging issue within toxic tort litigation,” said Matthew Bergman, who recently won a take-home case appeal in Washington.

“In Washington, prior to this latest ruling, different trial courts had reached different results. A number of trial courts had said an employer has no legal duty to family members of employees, even if it should know that the employees’ families face a risk of exposure.”

Bergman’s case involved a man who worked at a paper mill and his wife, who washed his clothes daily and died in 2004 of mesothelioma. The lawsuit blamed her death on cancerous materials brought into the home from her husband’s workplace.

According to Bergman, Kimberly Clark Corp., the owner of the mill, had successfully argued in a lower court that it had no duty of care to the woman because the potential for harm was not foreseeable.

But the Washington Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling, holding that “Kimberly Clark had a duty to prevent injury from an unreasonable risk of harm it had itself created.”

“It is clearly an issue of first impression in the state of Washington,” Bergman said of the ruling. “It paves the way for more meritorious claims.”

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