$7 Million Award to Secondhand Exposure Victim Upheld

Setting an important legal precedent, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently upheld a $7 million asbestos verdict awarded to a woman who contracted mesothelioma from handling her husband’s contaminated clothing, says MSNBC.  According to MSNBC and the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Bonnie Anderson, a former librarian and electrician, never worked with asbestos herself, but frequently washed the clothes her husband wore to his job, where he frequently encountered the dangerous mineral. John Anderson, Bonnie’s husband, worked at Exxon’s Linden Bayway Refinery from 1969 to 2004, reports the Star-Ledger, and was often required to remove insulation in order to fix filters and pipes.  According to the court’s published decision, “John never knew what kind of insulation it was.  He worked in his own street clothes, which Bonnie always laundered.  Standing near the washing machine, she would shake out as much dust as possible.  She often complained about the dust in his clothes and hair.” Because of mesothelioma’s long latency period, it was not until 2001 that Anderson began to display symptoms of malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, says the article.  When asbestos fibers become airborne, as often happens when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during removal, they can not only enter the lungs of the worker, but also contaminate his or her hair and clothes.  As Anderson’s case illustrates, the fibers can be deadly even to those who do not come into direct contact with the asbestos-containing materials themselves. While a state Supreme Court had already decided in 2006 that companies can be held liable for secondhand exposure to asbestos, reports the Star-Ledger, Anderson’s case marks the first time this ruling was upheld after a jury verdict.  Moshe Maimon, Anderson’s lawyer, claims, “This is a tremendous precedent in terms of the families of workers.”  The article also says that Anderson’s husband, who has not yet developed asbestos-related illness, was awarded an additional $500,000. Though the verdict was upheld in August of 2010, according to an MSNBC article, ExxonMobil attempted to file an appeal which was rejected just last month.  The New Jersey Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s appeal, says MSNBC, reaffirming ExxonMobil’s responsibility for Anderson’s illness and offering hope of legal recourse to other family members of asbestos workers who have become sick from secondhand exposure. References: Ackerman, Peggy. (August 20, 2010). “N.J. appellate court upholds $7M award from Exxon to woman handling husband’s asbestos-laden clothing.” Retrieved May 6, 2011 from the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Associated Press. (April 14, 2011). “NJ court won’t consider ExxonMobil’s appeal.” Retrieved May 6, 2011 from MSNBC. Previous: Witness testifies chrysotile asbestos can cause mesothelioma Next: EPA releases estimates of asbestos toxicity in Libby, Montana