CaliforniaThe California Court of Appeal, Second District, in a unanimous opinion, recently held in, Campbell v. Ford Motor Company that, "an employer has no duty to protect family members of employees from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of the employer's business."

In Campbell, plaintiff Eileen Honer was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which she alleged was caused by her father and brother's work at Ford Motor Company's Lincoln-Mercury plant in Metuchen, New Jersey. Honer's father and brother worked as asbestos insulators for a company whom Ford subcontracted to install asbestos insulation at the plant. Honer alleged that she was indirectly exposed to asbestos from the Ford plant via her brother and father's clothing which she laundered fifty years earlier. From age 11, Honer laundered the family's clothes, and shook the dust from her father and brother's clothing, before washing.

The jury determined that Ford was negligent in its use or maintenance of the plant and awarded plaintiff damages. The trial court denied Ford's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and Ford appealed.

In reversing the judgment, the Court of Appeal held that Honer's injury was only distantly and indirectly connected to Ford's negligence, and that injury to a family member of a subcontractor was unforeseeable. The appellate court supported its decision not to hold Ford liable for Honer's asbestos-related injuries based on a strong public policy consideration to impose a duty of care on property owners for indirect exposure. This would impose a burden on employers of uncertainty and an unknown scope of liability. This burden on the premises owner is substantial and the costs to the community could be considerable.

Based on Campbell, premises owners can now attempt to limit their liability to persons who were not directly exposed to asbestos on their premises. The Campbell case falls in line with the recent O'Neil case in limiting liability in asbestos product and premises liability cases. These two favorable results can be added to the arsenal of weapons the defense may use in seeking summary judgment, directed verdict or non-suit.


Florence A. McClainmichelle_b-headshot-web-name-Feel free to contact the authors with any questions: Florence A. McClain at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Michelle Burns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - or any WFBM attorney with whom you are working.