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California Supreme Court to decide secondhand asbestos exposure case

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asbestos is "a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion." Because of its durable qualities, asbestos was readily used in a variety of building and construction materials and in some motor vehicle parts.

Unfortunately, when breathed in, asbestos is also extremely hazardous as the tiny fibers become lodged in an individual’s lung tissue. Exposure to products containing asbestos has been linked to decreased lung functioning and numerous types of lung cancers. Mesothelioma is one of the most deadly forms of cancer that has been directly linked to asbestos exposure.


Today, the use or removal of asbestos materials is highly regulated and employers must comply with federal and state laws to protect workers from suffering the ill-effects of deadly asbestos. Such regulations, however, did not exist in the recent past.

A California man, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011, subsequently took steps to sue his uncle's former employer who he claimed failed to educate employees about the dangers of both first and secondhand asbestos exposure. As a result, the man's uncle frequently came home from work in clothing that was coated in asbestos thereby exposing members of his family and household to the dangerous materials.

A lower court dismissed the man's original lawsuit, but an appellate court disagreed and ruled the man could proceed with the lawsuit. The case was then again appealed and most recently the California Supreme Court agreed to hear and decide the case.

Similar lawsuits related to an employer's responsibility to protect members of an employee's family from asbestos exposure have not been successful. If the plaintiff in this case is successful, it will be an important win for other California residents who have suffered workplace injuries and illnesses related to secondhand asbestos exposure.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "State high court to rule on suit by asbestos-worker's family," Aug. 20, 2014

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