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From Products Liability Law Daily, July 10, 2013

Asbestos manufacturer did not have a duty to warn household members of exposure risk arising from the handling of contaminated work clothes

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

Prior to 1972, a manufacturer did not have a duty to warn the household members of an individual exposed to asbestos of the danger of contact with work clothing covered in asbestos dust, a state supreme court ruled in an opinion reversing a lower court determination that such a duty existed (Georgia Pacific, LLC v. Farrar, July 8, 2013, Wilner, A.).

Background. Jocelyn Farrar, the plaintiff, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2008. Farrar alleged that she was exposed to asbestos fibers brought into her home in 1968-1969 on the clothes of her grandfather, who was exposed to asbestos dust in the course of his employment. The grandfather had not handled the asbestos containing materials but was exposed to it because he had worked in the vicinity of others who did use the product. Ms. Farrar claimed that, during the relevant time period, she was exposed to the asbestos dust because she had been responsible for shaking out and laundering her grandfather’s clothes and sweeping the dust from the floor. After discovering that she had contracted mesothelioma, Farrar sued Georgia Pacific, the manufacturer of the asbestos-containing product alleged to have been the source of the asbestos dust on the clothing, arguing that it had a duty to warn her of the dangers of contact with the asbestos dust. The manufacturer argued that it did not have a duty to warn household members of the danger of contact with the asbestos dust at the time that the plaintiff was allegedly exposed. The state circuit court and court of special appeals disagreed, finding that a duty to warn had existed. The manufacturer appealed.

Duty to warn. A duty is defined as “an obligation to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.” Whether a person has a legal duty to warn other individuals, who may suffer harm by reason of the person’s conduct, or lack thereof, depends on a number of factors that need to be balanced including, but not limited to, the foreseeability of harm to those individuals, the awareness of the danger, and the ability to limit the danger though a warning. While it was acknowledged that concerns regarding household exposure to asbestos were addressed in scientific works as early as 1960, it was not until the adoption of regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1972 that the dangers of household exposure became public knowledge. As a result of this determination, it was concluded that the manufacturer did not have a duty to warn the plaintiff of the risks of exposure to asbestos dust on work clothing in 1968-1969.

The case number is No. 102.

Attorneys: Edward Lilly (Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos P.C.) for Farrar; James L. Shea (James L. Shea, P.C.) for Georgia Pacific.

Companies: Georgia Pacific.

MainStory: TopStory WarningsNews AsbestosNews MarylandNews

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