The Duty to Warn in California Asbestos Cases

A California court recently ruled that a company's duty to warn of dangers concerning asbestos exposure extended to a worker's nephew. This was true, despite the fact that the plaintiff was not employed by the defendant.

In February 2011, the nephew was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. He then initiated an asbestos lawsuit against multiple defendant-companies, including the company at issue. While the nephew worked for most of the defendant-companies, he was not employed by the one in question. All matters involving the nephew's employers had been resolved; however, the nephew asserted that the existing defendant-company was responsible for part of his exposure via his uncle, who was an employee of the defendant for over 30 years.

The nephew asserted that he was a regular guest in his uncle's home for a number of years and had frequent contact with his uncle's work clothing. On the other hand, the defendant argued that the duty to warn was not owed to the uncle's family members for take-home contact.

Initially, the lower court ruled that defendant-company did not have a duty to the plaintiff. Nevertheless, the First Appellate District Court of Appeals did not agree with the trial court, noting that the nephew frequently visited his uncle's home and spent multiple evenings per week in the employee's household for several years. Using a legal test from a previous court decision, Rowland v. Christian, the appeals court overturned the trial court's decision.

Rowland v. Christian

The appeals considered a number of factors from Rowland in assessing whether the defendant's duty to warn of asbestos dangers extended to the nephew. The court paid particular attention to the following three issues:

  • The foreseeability of harm
  • Confirmation that the plaintiff suffered an injury
  • The link between the harm and the defendant's conduct

Upon reviewing the Rowland factors, it was determined that the standards presented a good case that the defendant's duty to warn the nephew-plaintiff of the asbestos issues did exist. Specifically, the court explained, "The harm to third parties that can arise from a lack of precautions to control friable asbestos that may accumulate on employees' work clothing is generally foreseeable." Moreover, this duty existed even though the plaintiff was not an employee of the defendant.

The importance of legal assistance

If you or a loved one has suffered from mesothelioma, it is important to understand your rights. Asbestos exposure can be life threatening. To learn more about your recovery options after contracting an asbestos-related disease, speak to an attorney in the area.