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Arizona Court: Companies Are Not Liable for Take-Home Exposure Cases

By Treven Pyles

Posted on December 01st, 2016

The state Court of Appeals ruled that is not the duty of Arizona companies to protect family members from exposure to toxic materials that workers bring home on their clothes.

For decades, asbestos claims have usually involved industry. Many American manufacturers, power plants and factories used asbestos in their products for its useful properties such as chemical and thermal stability, high tensile strength, and insulating features. As asbestos dust control was too slow to be enforced and never fully effective, tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc, unwittingly took home the deadly mineral on their skin and work clothes, contaminating the home environment. Family members were therefore exposed to the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. The law compels employers to keep workers safe from health hazards and injury risks, including the risk of illness from asbestos exposure. If an employer fails to protect its workers from asbestos exposure, resulting in related employee injury, the employer is guilty of negligence.

Other States Have Recognized Duty of Care to Family Members in Take-Home Asbestos

The Supreme Courts of the states listed below considered in a number of claims, that the companies had a general duty to act reasonably in view of the foreseeable risk of danger to household members of its employees resulting from exposure to asbestos fibers carried home.

In these related cases, workers who inadvertently carried small particles of asbestos on their skin, tools and work clothes, were subjects of secondary exposure.

The nine jurisdictions stated the victims' secondary asbestos exposure was foreseeable in light of the existence of OSHA regulations and defendants' own workplace standards, especially those aimed at preventing asbestos fibers from clinging to workers' skin, hair, or clothing.

Take-Home Asbestos Exposure Not Actionable in Arizona

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health revealed that throughout time, the families of asbestos workers have been at increased risk of lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other types of cancers including cancers of the esophagus, ovaries, stomach, colon, and rectum.

Even though other states have allowed lawsuits based on "take-home exposure", appellate Judge Jon Thompson stated that doesn't comply with Arizona laws. Survivors of Ernest Quiroz, the son of an asbestos worker employed by Reynolds Metal Co., thought that the employer should be held responsible for the son's asbestos disease and death. After living in his father's house from 1952 to 1966 - the time his father worked for Reynolds Metal- Ernest developed mesothelioma and died in 2014.

Survivors claim in the lawsuit that mesothelioma was a result of the secondary exposure to the asbestos fibers. Quiroz frequently inhaled asbestos particles, as his father, a Reynolds' employee, brought home from work the hazardous fibers embedded in his clothing. Therefore, the attorneys for the Quiroz family contend Reynolds had a duty to avoid creating dangerous conditions on its property that would cause injury to people of the property. The court ruling doesn't mention if Quiroz's father himself had any claim against Reynolds.

Finding Duty in Take-Home Asbestos Exposure Cases Might Exacerbate the Current Asbestos Litigation Crisis

The duty of a landowner to his invitees generally ends when a person leaves the property, as Judge Thompson asserted. Similarly, as Judge Thompson wrote, the responsibility of an employer is limited to "provide reasonably safe premises and reasonably safe means of ingress and egress". Reynolds Metal Co. can't be held legally responsible for avoiding injuries caused to people outside their property. Furthermore, there is no claim that the injuries Ernest Quiroz suffered were a direct consequence of his presence on the property of Reynolds.

In Arizona, it was the first ruling of this kind. The appellate judges rejected the claim that required Reynolds to be responsible for the effects of the asbestos at its Arizona operations on others, including family members.

The appellate judges wanted to underline that without some constraints, probably a dramatic expansion of liability would follow, as companies that made or used potentially hazardous substance could be considered liable to anyone that ever came into contact with an employee who could have carried said hazardous substance offsite.

Another thing they also openly worried about was the precedent it would set to make companies responsible for the injuries that were the result of secondary exposure to their chemicals or toxic products.

Court rulings from other states that have allowed lawsuits in cases of secondary exposure, like the Tennessee Supreme Court in Alcoa daughter mesothelioma case, weren't taken into consideration.