Many an asbestosis lawsuit, and similar lawsuits alleging asbestos disease and mesothelioma, have alleged that workplace exposure to asbestos has resulted in a diagnosis of asbestos cancer and related maladies years and often decades following exposure, given that asbestos has a long latency period within the human body.
A sidebar to the classic asbestos lawsuit, in the first person, is litigation brought by a family member having suffered from secondhand exposure to asbestos, such as through the laundering of work clothes worn by a spouse.
Such an event relates to the case involving plaintiff Barbara Bobo. The plaintiff’s husband, James, had put in two decades of service as a machine operator at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama. James Bobo, according to court records, died in 1997 from lung cancer that had been related to asbestos exposure.
His wife Barbara died 16 years later from malignant pleural mesothelioma - a form of asbestosis disease - in 2013, but not before she filed an asbestosis lawsuit alleging that her asbestos exposure was the result of secondhand exposure from the very same asbestos that claimed her husband’s life, while washing his work clothes.
The federal court in Alabama presiding over Barbara Bobo’s case has certified two questions for the Alabama Supreme Court to consider: namely, wrote US District Judge Charles Lynwood Smith Jr., whether premises owners have a duty to “non-employees for hazards created at the workplace,” and also what the causation standard should be “when a plaintiff’s injury is the result of multiple exposures to a toxic agent, such as asbestos,” according to his opinion.
“There are no clear, controlling precedents in the decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court on these issues, and their significance extends beyond the present case,” Judge Smith said, in his opinion.
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Bobo did her husband’s laundry for 22 years in this fashion. Asbestos is at its most dangerous when free-floating fibers are inhaled into the lungs.
The defendant in the case is the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which operated the facility at which James Bobo worked. TVA had argued it does not owe a duty of liability to Barbara Bobo. Plaintiffs in the asbestosis lawsuit, which has survived Bobo’s death, argue that the harm to Barbara Bobo should have been foreseeable.
The case is Bobo v. AGCO Corp. et al., case number 5:12-cv-01930, in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
Belinda D. Farmer