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The Alabama Supreme Court has been asked by a federal district court to resolve the extent to which state law holds premises owners liable to non-employees for hazards created in the workplace.
At issue in Bobo v. AGCO Corporation, et al. is whether the law allows an employer to be responsible for the harmful asbestos exposure of employee spouses.
This case is indicative of most secondary exposure cases. That is, while many male employees came into direct contact with asbestos-containing agents in the course of their workday, women and children suffered secondhand exposure when they came in contact with workers’ clothing. Laundering clothing is often cited as the most common cause of this exposure, although other forms of contact such as embracing the worker each evening and breathing the fibers from their clothing are also reported.
In this asbestos lawsuit, according to court records from the U.S. District Court from the Northern District of Alabama, the plaintiff was born in 1942, married her husband in 1964, and purchased a home in Alabama the following year.
The husband was employed for 10 years, beginning in 1965, at a power plant as a machine operator. During that period, he was exposed to numerous asbestos-containing products. These included block insulation, insulating cement, and pipe coverings. He continued with temporary or annual employment at the company (although at different locations and in different positions) until his death.
In his role as a laborer, he was often required to clean asbestos-laden insulation residue that had fallen onto the floor.
Every evening when he returned, his wife would later recall his work clothing was “pretty dirty” with white material, later identified as asbestos.
The plaintiff’s husband died in 1997, following a diagnosis of lung cancer induced by asbestosis, which is a form of silacatosis that results from breathing asbestos fibers. It is also associated with pleural mesothelioma.
The plaintiff was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2011 and died in 2013 – 16 years to the day after her husband’s death. At the time, she was 71 years old.
It should be noted the company kept records of employee fatalities, and several individuals – including some who worked the same jobs as the plaintiff’s husband – died of asbestos-related diseases.
The plaintiff’s attorneys alleged she was exposed to the fibers while washing her husband’s clothing, and also while riding in the family car.
After the plaintiff died, the lawsuit against the defendants was carried on by her daughters. The primary defendant is the facility where the decedent’s husband worked. Expert witnesses asserted the decedent’s exposure to asbestos from her husband’s work was a substantial contributing factor to her developing mesothelioma.
The issue here is there is no controlling standard in Alabama for determining the extent to which property owners and employers have a duty to protect non-workers from work-related hazards.
The plaintiffs argue the harm was foreseeable, and thus the defendants are liable. The defendants argue they owe no duty to non-workers to protect against work-related dangers.
The question has been certified to the Alabama Supreme Court, which will issue a ruling in the next few months. That decision will have an impact on similar asbestos lawsuits in that state going into the future.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling (888) 554-2030. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Bobo v. AGCO Corporation et al, June 22, 2015, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama
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