In cases of a mesothelioma diagnosis, usually more than one company or party can be held liable for damages to the client and his or her family.
Mesothelioma lawyers know that generally, liability involves the company that manufactured the asbestos-containing product, as well as the company for whom the individual may have worked that failed to protect him or her from airborne exposure to the deadly mineral. In some cases, people may have been exposed at multiple sites over the course of their life.
The case of Macias v. Saberhagen Holdings, Inc. is not unique in this regard, with several companies facing potential liability for the terminal illness of Leo Macias, a retired shipyard worker. However, what makes this case unique is that Macias is also seeking to hold liable a respirator company, which manufactures devices intended to protect individuals from breathing in the asbestos particles.
The other aspect that makes this case unique is that exposure reportedly occurred between about 1980 to 2004.
However, Macias successfully appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court for the right to sue the respirator company – despite the fact that they had not manufactured an inherently dangerous product. To understand why, we need to delve a little deeper into the facts of the case.
Macias was employed as a tool keeper at a shipyard in Seattle. Asbestos was known to be a dangerous contaminant, and as such, many of the workers wore respirators when working with the mineral.
It was Macias’ job at the end of every shift to clean those respirators. Different filters were used for different contaminants, including paint fumes, dust, welding fumes – and asbestos. Workers would toss the used respirators into a basket, often bouncing off a nearby window and created small clouds of asbestos dust with each smack against the wall. Macias would then change the filter and clean the masks – without using protection of his own. Sometimes, he would handle hundreds of these masks a day.
And this is where the argument arises regarding the manufacturer of those devices: Did they have a responsibility to warn anyone cleaning the devices that they, too, had to protect themselves?
Macias said that if he had been warned, he would have worn protection. He has since been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The trial court had ruled against Macias and his team, saying that the product itself was not inherently dangerous. The respirator companies hadn’t made the asbestos, so they could not be held liable for the damage it had done.
Macias and his team appealed. The appellate court pointed out that almost all asbestos exposure resulting in mesothelioma stems from the significant exposure to the compound prior to July 26, 1981. This was when Washington state passed the Washington Product Liability Act. Although Macias’ exposure had begun prior to that date, most of the exposure occurred afterward.
Ultimately, the appellate court based its ruling on the fact that the manufacturer of the respirator was not itself producing a harmful product. State and common law have both long held that in order for a manufacturer to be found liable, it has to be somewhere in the chain of distribution of that dangerous product.
The respirator company was actually in the business of protecting workers. The appellate court denied Macias’ claim, and he then appealed to the state’s supreme court. The Washington State Supreme Court in its ruling held out two general exceptions to that earlier-state rule, based on previous case law:
1. If the manufacturer incorporates a defective compound into its finished product (sometimes called assembler liability);
2. Cases in which there is a combination of two sound products that creates a dangerous condition, both manufacturers have a duty to warn.
The court reasoned that while neither of these two were applicable in the Macias case, the respirator company could still be held liable. Why?
Because the very purpose of respirators was to filter out asbestos and they were designed to be used over and over again, it would reason that at some point, they would need to cleaned in order to be reused. Therefore, the company had a duty to warn users and anyone who would potentially be cleaning the product of the safest way to do so.
This company did not.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. Offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Macias v. Saberhagen Holdings, Inc., Washington Supreme Court, Justia Case Files