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Decision Means Workers’ Family Members Can Get Justice for Their Own Mesothelioma
Mrs. Quisenberry died of malignant mesothelioma in 2016, three years after being diagnosed with the rare and fatal form of cancer. As her family searched for an answer to where her exposure to asbestos came from, they realized that she had been exposed on a constant basis as a child, when her father worked for Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock. After her death, her son Wesley filed a mesothelioma lawsuit against the company’s new owners, Huntington Ingalls Inc., arguing that the company had a duty to take action to prevent the asbestos within their environment from affecting family members of their employees. The company argued that they owed no duty of care to those outside of their purview, and asked the Virginia Supreme Court to consider the case. That request led to a majority decision that employers do owe a duty to family members of workers who may face exposure to asbestos through the workers’ clothing. Though the decision does not automatically mean that Mr. Quisenberry will win his lawsuit against Huntington, it does mean that the case can proceed to a jury trial.
Writing for the court, Justice Millette said that companies are able to create a recognizable risk to people with whom they have no interaction, and “That harm in the present case occurred at a location removed from the employer’s business and after hours is a distinction without a difference. The artificial hazard created by the shipyard — asbestos dust — was allegedly released through the shipyard’s course of conduct and moved to place Wanda in danger.”