Thursday, October 18, 2018

Court Rules Employers Must Protect Asbestos Workers' Families

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that employers have a duty
to protect family members of workers exposed to asbestos after hearing
the case of Wanda Quisenberry, who died from mesothelioma.

Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that employers have a duty to protect family members of workers who are exposed to asbestos.

The court ruled in agreement with plaintiff Wesley Quisenberry in his lawsuit against Huntington Ingalls Inc. over his the death of his mother, Wanda Quisenberry, from malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. According to the lawsuit, Wanda Quisenberry's father worked on Huntington Ingalls' shipyard where he came into contact with asbestos and unknowingly brought home asbestos fibers on his work clothes. These fibers were inhaled by Wanda Quisenberry every day when she washed her father's work clothes and caused her death.

Asbestos exposure is known to cause several types of respiratory disease including malignant pleural mesothelioma. Inhaling even small amounts of asbestos fibers over time can cause an accumulation of these fibers the lungs, which are too fine for the lungs to effectively filter. Professional asbestos workers are taught to take special safety precautions for this very reason.

However, secondary asbestos exposure is a risk factor that is not always explicitly mentioned.  Professional asbestos workers can bring home asbestos fibers on their clothes, shoes, and tools. This is why its now required for employers to provide workers with showering facilities so workers can wash asbestos off of their skin and hair before going home. It is also now required for employers to use special laundry services to properly clean work clothes.

None of these practices were in effect in 1954 when Wanda Quisenberry's father began working at Hungtinton Ingalls' shipyard and exposed his family to asbestos. However, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants knew the danger of asbestos exposure at the time and did not adequately protect the employee's family.

The lawsuit hinged on whether or not Huntington Ingalls provided adequate safety training to its employees- and whether the employer had legal responsibility to protect the family members of employees from toxic chemicals encountered on the job site.

Huntington Ingalls maintained that Wanda Quisenberry was not their employee and was not injured on their premises, therefore they did not owe a legal duty to inform her of any asbestos hazards.

Ultimately, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Virginia law and common law dictates that Huntington Ingalls owed a duty to people impacted by its actions.

"The Quisenberrys' situation is similar to that of a farmer whose cows wander onto a roadway, as in a case the court has decided before, or a company that dumps chemicals into a body of water. The actions of both the farmer and the company have created a recognizable risk to people who are on the road or in the water, even if they have never interacted before," Senior Justice LeRoy Millette Jr said in a recent press release.

However, the court added that more evidence will be required if the plaintiff Wesley Quisenberry is going to prove that Huntington Ingalls is actually responsible for Wanda Quisenberry's death.

Furthermore, not all justices agreed with the majority ruling. Three justices were concerned that the ruling would apply to a limitless group of plaintiffs because it puts no boundaries on to whom it applies.

Regardless, the lawsuit is expected to move forward.

"Now that the question has been answered, we get to go forward," Jonathan George, attorney for the Quisenberrys', said in a recent press release.

To learn more about this case, read the court document. To learn more about asbestos certification and how to get started in this industry, visit Zack Academy.

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