Calif. court rules against woman exposed to asbestos while doing laundry

By John O'Brien | May 22, 2012

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - An appeals court in California has ruled that Ford Motor Company had no duty to protect a woman from asbestos brought home on the clothing of her brother and father.

The Monday decision of the Second Appellate District overturned a judgment from Los Angeles County Superior Court that placed 5 percent of the blame for Eileen Honer's mesothelioma on Ford. A jury ordered the company to pay $40,000.

"While the overall policy of preventing future harm is ordinarily served, in tort law, by imposing the costs of negligent conduct upon those responsible, the policy question is 'whether that consideration is outweighed, for a category of negligent conduct, by laws or mores indicating approval of the conduct or by the undesirable consequences of allowing potential liability," Judge Fred Woods wrote.

Woods was citing the 2011 decision of the state Supreme Court in Cabral v. Ralph's Grocery Company. In that case, a truck driver working for Ralph's Grocery stopped his tractor-trailer on the side of a highway, and Adelelmo Cabral collided with it and died.

A jury found Ralph's at fault for 10 percent of the damages, and the Supreme Court agreed with the finding in that case.

Other factors considered, and decided in Ford's favor, included the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered and the moral blame attached to the defendant's conduct. Those issues were outlined in a 1968 decision by the Second District.

The court also pointed at a Michigan Supreme Court decision in 2007. It said, "imposing a duty on a landowner to anybody who comes into contact with somebody who has been on the landowner's property" (and secondarily exposed to asbestos as a result) "would create a potentially limitless pool of plaintiffs."

Honer said she washed the clothes of her brother and father, who worked as insulators at Ford's Lincoln-Mercury plant in Metuchen, N.J. She was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2004.

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