Mesothelioma Verdict Over Washing Husband’s Work Clothes Upheld on Appeal

A New Jersey appeals court has upheld a $7.5 million verdict in a mesothelioma lawsuit that was awarded for a woman who was exposed to asbestos fibers while washing her husband’s work clothes for three decades. 

The New Jersey Superior Court issued a ruling last month that affirmed the lower court jury award to Bonnie Anderson, rejecting a request from Exxon Mobil Corp. that the verdict be overturned. Anderson was diagnosed with mesothelioma from asbestos exposure after working for 12 years at an Exxon refinery and from washing her husband’s clothes while he also worked at Exxon between 1969 and 2003.

Exxon tried to have the verdict thrown out on the basis that Anderson’s claims were not allowed under New Jersey exclusive remedy worker compensation laws. However, the court determined that Anderson could be treated as a dual persona; an employee of the company who was exposed to asbestos, and a nonemployee who was exposed in a nonoccupational setting, for the purpose of the lawsuit.

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The jury awarded Bonnie Anderson $7 million and her husband $500,000.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the chest and lungs, which is only known to occur as a result of exposure to asbestos. The disease has a very long latency period and is often not discovered until decades after exposure, leading to a limited life expectancy after diagnosis.

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. Despite the ban, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the number of mesothelioma deaths continues to rise each year due to the latency period, with the number expected to peak in 2010.

In recent years, a growing number of second-hand asbestos exposure lawsuits over mesothelioma have been filed by those who were not directly exposed to asbestos, but by living in the same house as those who came into direct contact. Family members who washed clothes, children who were held by their parents after arriving from work covered in asbestos fibers and other similar situations have resulted in successful lawsuits against the manufacturers of asbestos and products containing asbestos.

Asbestos exposure mesothelioma lawsuits are the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first asbestos case filed in 1929. Over 600,000 people have filed lawsuits against 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases.


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