Across the nation, courts are being asked to decide whether premises owners owe a duty to unknown third parties. This has been highlighted by recent cases involving alleged asbestos exposure to an employee’s family members. On April 19, 2007, Texas and Tennessee added two new opinions on the debate. In Texas, the Fourteenth District Court of Appeals issued a new opinion reversing the trial court verdict in a household exposure case against Exxon Mobil Corporation.
Basing its decision on its foreseeability analysis of the facts present at trial, the court in Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Altimore held it was not foreseeable to Exxon prior to 1972 that Mrs. Altimore, the wife of an Exxon employee, was at risk for contracting mesothelioma from asbestos fibers carried home on her husband's clothing.
In Tennessee, the Court of Appeals for Tennessee at Knoxville overturned the trial court's granting of summary judgment for Alcoa Inc. in a household exposure case involving the daughter of an Alcoa employee in Satterfield v. Breeding Insulation Company, Inc. and Alcoa Inc., f/k/a Aluminum Company of America. Assuming that the facts alleged in the petition are correct, the Tennessee court held it was foreseeable that a household member of one of its employees was at risk of contracting an asbestos related injury, that Alcoa's conduct, as alleged, presented an unreasonable risk to employees' households and gave rise to a duty to act to protect household members from secondary exposure to asbestos.
Finally, on May 3, 2007, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas, Texas heard oral arguments in the case of Alcoa Inc. v. Behringer. Like Altimore, the Behringer case involves the appeal of a jury verdict against Alcoa Inc. in a household exposure case. A decision from the Fifth District is expected soon.