Are employers responsible for asbestos fibers that follow workers home?
Asbestos disease doesn’t just happen at the worksite. If asbestos fibers follow the worker home – on clothing, tool belt or carseat – the worker’s family members can get sick.
This is important, because there have been reported cases of spouses and children of asbestos workers developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-caused disease. Imagine the exposure of a spouse who launders the worker’s work clothes. If that individual gets sick, does the family have any legal recourse?
The court said Yes
The California Supreme Court has ruled (in Haver v. BNSF Railway, Cal., S219919) that employers may be liable for asbestos injuries that are sustained far from the factory floor or industrial site. The case involved a former railroad worker’s wife, who allegedly died because of asbestos fibers carried home by her husband.
The railroad, BNSF Railway, argued that businesses shouldn’t be liable for injuries to non-employees who never visited the worksite. The “duty of care” that employers assume does not extend to non-employees. The Supreme Court disagreed.
The ruling is a narrow one. It does not guarantee that anyone who knows an asbestos worker and gets sick can file a claim. The ruling is limited to family and household members.
But the ruling is significant because it means that businesses must show awareness and concern for third parties who come down with serious illnesses because they – the businesses — did not take reasonable precautions to keep supertoxic fibers from following workers home.