Lawsuit Over Asbestos Bystander Exposure Results in Defense Verdict
A California jury has rejected claims made in a mesothelioma lawsuit that Exxon and Ford should be held liable for bystander asbestos exposure suffered by a woman who visited her husband while he was working with various asbestos products in the 1960s and 1970s.
The complaint was filed by Marline Petipas, who claimed that she developed mesothelioma cancer as a result of brief visits to her husband while he was working at an Exxon service station. Petipas alleged that she was exposed to asbestos dust from various car parts, such as brakes, gaskets and clutches.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, which is only known to be caused by exposure to asbestos and breathing asbestos fibers. It is a lethal disease that is often at a very advanced stage when a diagnosis is made, resulting in a very short life-expectancy.
Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort in U.S. history, with more than 600,000 people having filed a lawsuit against more than 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other diseases that were allegedly caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
While the vast majority of cases are brought by individuals who worked directly with asbestos products, a number of second hand asbestos lawsuits and bystander asbestos exposure lawsuits have been filed in recent years.
Jury Rejected Asbestos Bystander Liability
Following trial in the Superior Court of California, a Los Angeles County jury returned a defense verdict last week in favor of Exxon and Ford.
The jury found that Petitpas developed mesothelioma from asbestos dust at the service station, but found that Exxon did not know or have reason to know that there was a condition at the station that created an unreasonable risk to Petitpas. With regard to Ford, the jury found that Petitpas was exposed to asbestis dust from Ford brakes, gaskets or clutches, but that such exposure was not a substantial factor in contributing to her risk of mesothelioma.
According to a report by Law360.com, attorneys involved in the litigation over asbestos speculated that if Petitpas had been successful in the case, it may have lead to even more lawsuits filed by individuals who develop mesothelioma without direct exposure.
Asbestos bystander exposure lawsuits involve claims similar to those raised in second-hand asbestos cases, where family members of individuals who work directly with the products allege that asbestos fibers carried home on clothing or in the hair of individuals who worked with the material caused wives, children or other family members to be diagnosed with the cancer years later.
The success of such lawsuits has varied nationwide. In March, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that CSX could be sued by the estate of the wife of a former employee because the company didn’t warn its employees that their spouses and family were in danger. The plaintiff the case was filed for died in 2007 from mesothelioma. However, in 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in a similar case that such exposure was not reasonably foreseeable by the a manufacturer.
Several second-hand exposure cases that have reached a jury in recent years resulted in multi-million dollar damage awards, including $10 million in a Baltimore mesothelioma lawsuit filed by a man who alleged he was exposed as a young child when his father cared for him after coming home from work as an engineman on an oil tanker. A Los Angeles jury awarded $208.8 million in 2010 to a woman who alleged she developed asbestos cancer from washing her husband’s clothes, which was the largest mesothelioma damage award in the state’s history.
Asbestos was widely used in a variety of manufacturing and construction applications throughout the last century, with use peaking in 1973. Most uses of asbestos were banned in the mid-1980s.
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