A recent mesothelioma case out of Washington state raises an interesting question with regard to responsibility: Can a company that manufacturers respirators designed to protect against asbestos be held liable when someone gets sick?
Boston mesothelioma lawyers know there are a lot of companies that knowingly manufactured products containing asbestos and for years, exposed their workers to the airborne particles that cause this deadly cancer.
This case was unique not only in the question it posed, but in the fact that exposure reportedly occurred in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, when the dangers of asbestos were fairly well-established to the public.
So can a respirator company be held liable? In short, yes. But it’s important to note that Macias v. Saberhagen Holdings, Inc. came with a very specific set of circumstances that made victory possible.
Here’s what happened:
The plaintiff since the 1980s had been employed in a shipyard in Washington state. He was a tool keeper, and part of his job required that he maintain the respirators that the other workers used to filter out any contaminants while on the job.
Those contaminants included asbestos.
The workers would then return those respirators to the tool room where Leo Macias worked. Macias was responsible for cleaning out the respirators by replacing the filter cartridges in the masks.
Macias said that when he would go to swap the filters on the respirators, he would toss the filters into a nearby basket, causing what he described as a “little poof” of dust.
Additionally, when the basket was full, he said there was dust, sand and dirt everywhere.
This was done over and over again for a number of years. He was employed at the company from 1978 until 2004. It was at the tail end of his career that he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
His complaint maintains that not only was the shipyard liable for its failure to take more stringent measures to protect him, but that also the respirator company was responsible because it had failed to instruct anyone cleaning the masks on the dangers of doing so without themselves wearing protection.
The respirator manufacturers moved for a summary judgment in the case, saying they were under no obligation to warn workers about how to safely clean the devices. The trial court denied that motion.
However, the case was then appealed, with the Court of Appeals ruling that state law in Washington didn’t provide a basis upon which to find the respirator manufacturers liable because they hadn’t made the dangerous product.
But when the case made it to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, justices reversed that ruling. They held that while a manufacturer generally doesn’t have a responsibility to warn consumers about the dangers of products that they do not make, supply or sell, this was different. This case involved the duty to warn with regard to the danger of asbestos exposure inherent when using and maintaining the respirators – which were the products’ sole purpose.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in New England, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.