Spouses, children, grandchildren, parents and others who claim that one of their relatives worked with or around asbestos-containing products, brought asbestos fibers home on their clothes, and that those fibers contributed to the development of an asbestos-related disease – these are all examples of the so-called “take home exposure” plaintiffs in the asbestos litigation. For years, plaintiffs with “take home” asbestos-related diseases have filed lawsuits against manufacturers claiming that the product manufacturers should have provided them with warnings, even though the plaintiffs never worked with or even saw the products that they claim caused their disease.
Many courts have address the validity of these claims, focusing their reasoning on the issue of whether a manufacturer owes a plaintiff with a “take home exposure” disease a duty of care. In the latest development from the Courts on this topic, the Georgia Supreme Court weighed in with their ruling in the CertainTeed Corporation v. Fletcher case.
In Fletcher, the plaintiff alleged that laundering her father’s asbestos-contaminated work clothes caused her mesothelioma. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiff did not meet her burden of proof in showing that the product manufacturer failed to warn the plaintiff of the alleged dangers of asbestos. The plaintiff appealed, the appellate court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the Georgia Supreme Court thereafter took the issue up for review.
The Georgia Supreme Court held that the manufacturer did not owe a duty to warn the plaintiff of the potential hazards of asbestos fibers from its products. The Court focused on issues of public policy and held that if it were to expand the protection of the duty to warn to “take home exposure” individuals such as the plaintiff, the Court foresaw that the duty of care would shift to the product user. In the Fletcher case, that would mean that Fletcher’s father, who actually used the products at issue and was in the best position to see any warning on the products, could be held responsible for protecting people with whom he subsequently came into contact. This responsibility could extend not only to immediate family members, but also to member of the community that Fletcher’s father only briefly interacted with on a daily basis. Creating such a duty to warn, the Court held, would be unreasonable, as the class of individuals potentially needing to be warned by Fletcher’s father would be limitless.
Although the Georgia Supreme Court ruled more favorably on other issues related to Fletcher’s claim, the ruling regarding take-home exposures and the duty of care owed by manufacturers to “take home exposure plaintiffs” is notable. It is but one of many recent rulings across the country on this issue, and it will surely not be the last.
The attorneys at CMBG3 Law LLC have represented clients in asbestos, products liability, and toxic tort matters for many years. We provide the most current advice by staying informed of legal, scientific and medical developments regarding a wide variety of substances and products used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Gardella (email him or 617-936-4353, ext. 204).