South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Property Owner Had Duty of Care to Warn Workers and Spouses of Asbestos Dangers
Description New Jersey appeals court held that a wrongful death suit against a property owner could proceed. The property owner allowed contract workers to be exposed to asbestos that was carried home on their clothing, posing a risk of harm to their spouses. Since the cost of warning of the danger was low, a duty of care existed to the workers and their spouses.
Topic Torts
Key Words Wrongful Death; Asbestos; Premises Owner; Duty of Care
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts From 1951 to 1983 Olivo worked as a welder for various contractors. He spent several years working at an Exxon refinery. His job meant daily contact with asbestos products. Every day his wife would wash his dirty work clothes. In 2000 she was diagnosed with a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos. She died in 2001. Olivo sued Exxon and others for wrongful death, contending that he was never warned to be careful about exposure to asbestos and so never warned his wife about the dangers of handling his clothing that was contaminated with asbestos. The trial court dismissed the case; Olivo appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. In determining whether a duty is to be imposed, courts weigh and balance several factors, including the nature of the risk of harm, which includes its foreseeability and severity, the opportunity and ability to exercise care to prevent the harm, the comparative interests of the parties, and considerations of public policy and fairness. The imposition of a duty of care to warn contract workers and their spouses of the dangers of inhaling asbestos fibers while handling workers' clothing is not unfair. The risks posed by asbestos were understood and Exxon easily could have taken steps to protect the worker and his spouse. The duty of care is limited to the spouse and does not extend to others who might come into contact with an employees' clothing.

Citation Olivo v. Exxon Mobil Corp., ---A.2d--- (2005 WL 1034135, App. Div., N.J., 2005)

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