Back-and-Forth Rulings on Third-Party Asbestos Exposure to Be Settled By State Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court will decide whether or not a man with mesothelioma can sue his uncle’s employer, Abex, which he blames for his development of the disease. Johnny Kesner, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011, claims he was exposed to asbestos as a teenager, when his uncle would come home from work wearing clothes covered in the toxic dust.

Kesner’s first suit against Abex was filed in Alameda County. The Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Abex, agreeing with the company’s assertion that it was not responsible for the health of its employees’ families. In May, the First District Court of Appeal overturned that ruling, allowing Kesner to sue Abex, since the company made asbestos-containing brake linings. Typically, an employer wouldn’t be responsible for damages suffered by third parties, but because Abex used a hazardous substance in its products, the company had a responsibility to protect workers and their families from harm. According to Kesner’s lawsuit, Abex had pamphlets that warned against bringing home contaminated clothes, but these were not distributed to the company’s employees.

Abex appealed the appellate court’s decision, which led the state Supreme Court to decide unanimously to take up the case. The Supreme Court is also reviewing a second, similar case involving a cancer-stricken wife who was exposed to asbestos through contact with her husband’s work clothes. These types of cases have divided California’s appellate courts; whatever decision is made regarding these cases will likely serve as a benchmark ruling for future claims.

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Inhalation of airborne fibers can lead to numerous respiratory health problems. The hazardous material has been banned since the 1970s, but there are still approximately 3,000 mesothelioma diagnoses made each year.

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