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CA Supreme Court Says Companies May Be Held Liable for Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The Supreme Court of California ruled on Thursday that companies may be held accountable for secondary asbestos exposure in a worker’s home. Companies have the responsibility to prevent the act of employees carrying asbestos home on their clothing or bodies, the decision said.

If the company can reasonably predict that secondary exposure will occur, then it must give due diligence to prevent it.

In California, the official state mineral is serpentine, which is a source of chrysotile asbestos. California is also known for volcanic mountains and earthquakes—areas where asbestos is typically found.

Early people groups who inhabited California did not disturb the serpentine rock, but today’s ever-increasing population has also increased demand for housing. So communities like El Dorado Hills have experienced huge growth in construction, causing more asbestos fibers to be released into the air, leading to more exposure.

Natural asbestos deposits are also found on mountain ranges north of the Los Angeles Basin and the Mojave Desert about 50 miles south of Las Vegas, Nevada.

This court ruling was the result of two lawsuits. In one, a woman died of cancer caused by BNSF Railway Company. Her ex-husband worked at the company and was exposed to asbestos on the job, which was carried home with him on his clothing.

This woman’s story is not uncommon. Heather Von St. James, an 11-year mesothelioma survivor, was exposed to asbestos secondhand as a young girl from her father, who was a construction worker and brought home harmful dust.

His clothes would be covered in thick, crusty, asbestos dust from sanding drywall all day. Heather Von St. James also liked to wear her father’s jacket outside, which unknown to the family, was also covered in the dangerous substance.

“I believe I was exposed from my father’s work clothes,” said Von St. James. “He would come home with a white coat, white shoes and white pants, all covered with drywall dust containing asbestos.”

Von St. James was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma at the age of 36 about three months after giving birth to her child. She was initially given 15 months to live.

An increasing number of women are being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Although they have no known work-related contact, they were exposed to asbestos dust through a family member who regularly brought it home.

“I would always wear my Daddy’s jacket. He hung it in the utility room—it was always there. The dusty boots were always there,” recalled Von St. James. “I’m angry because it could have been prevented, but anger is a negative emotion. I’ve turned my anger into action to keep people from being exposed to asbestos.”