On May 21, 2012, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District reversed a jury verdict that found Ford Motor Company (Ford) owed a duty to protect family members of employees from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of an employer’s business. Campbell v. Ford Motor Company, 206 Cal. App. 4th 15 (2012).
In Campbell, plaintiff Eileen Honer filed a premises liability lawsuit against Ford claiming that she was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of her exposure to asbestos when she washed her father’s and brother’s asbestos-covered clothing. Both her father and brother worked for Ford installing asbestos insulation in one of Ford’s buildings during 1947 and 1948. The case went to trial and the jury found Ford 5% liable. Plaintiff Eileen Honer later died and the action was continued by her daughter Mary Campbell.
Ford appealed the jury verdict claiming that it did not owe a duty of care to plaintiff and the Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the jury verdict.
The Court of Appeal focused its analysis on "whether an employer has a duty to protect family members of employees from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of the employer's business." To determine this issue, the Court of Appeal examined the Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal. 2d. 108 (1968) factors: (1) the relative remoteness of the connection between Ford’s conduct in having the work performed and the injury to an employee’s family member off the premises; (2) the moral blame, if any, associated with the conduct at issue; (3) the difficulty in delineating the category of relevant secondarily exposed individuals; and (4) the extent of the burden upon defendants in similar situations should a duty be found.
In applying the Rowland factors to the facts of the case, the Court of Appeal found Plaintiff was never on Ford’s premises, rather she alleged her father and brother brought asbestos dust home on their clothing after working on Ford’s property and, more than 50 years later, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma due to the exposure. Also, the court focused on the absence of a relationship between Ford and the plaintiff and concluded that given the potential for limitless liability on property owners by a large number of a class of individuals would be against public policy.