Maryland Court Examines a Manufacturer’s Duty to Warn Household Members in Asbestos Case

One of the requirements to establish a negligence claim is a duty on the part of a defendant owed to the victim.  In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland analyzed the scope of the duty to warn as it applies to a manufacturer of asbestos-containing products.  In the case, the circuit court granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs, who subsequently appealed the matter.

In this case, the plaintiff’s father worked in powerhouses where the defendant installed insulation and cement that contained asbestos.  The installation of these products created dust-containing asbestos fibers that would accumulate on the father’s clothing.  From 1962 to 1972, the plaintiff lived in a small trailer home with his parents, in close contact with the clothing and the laundry machine that washed the clothing.  In 2014, the plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma.  The plaintiffs brought negligence and strict liability claims against the business that installed the asbestos-containing products, based on a failure to warn.

The defendant relied on a previous case, Georgia Pacific, LLC v. Farrar, in which the Maryland Court of Appeals held that a manufacturer or distributor of an asbestos product did not owe a duty to warn the household member of a worker-bystander present at facilities where the product was installed prior to 1972, since there was no practical way that a warning could have avoided the danger to the household member.  The plaintiffs argued that the Farrar holding did not apply because in the present case, the father had access to commercial laundering facilities that specialized in cleaning industrial clothing, there were changing rooms at his workplace, and he would have heeded a warning of the dangers of household exposure.

On appeal, the court found that the existence of pre-1972 studies regarding the dangers of take-home asbestos, the defendant’s presence at a convention discussing asbestos health hazards, and the defendant’s subscription to a magazine that contained asbestos-risk articles did not establish that the defendant had actual knowledge of the dangers of asbestos beyond the worksite.  Even if the health risks were known to the defendant, the court noted that it would be poor public policy if the courts were to impose a duty that either cannot feasibly be implemented or, even if implemented, would have no practical effect.

Addressing the plaintiff’s arguments, the court explained that even if the plaintiff’s father had changed his clothes on site, he would have brought them home to be cleaned.  The court went on to find that the plaintiff’s assertion that his father would have had his clothes professionally laundered was too speculative.  In addition, although the father may have had his clothes professionally cleaned, the duty owed by the defendant would impermissibly expand to include an unlimited number of people, such as the laundromat employees and other bystanders in contact with the clothes.  Accordingly, the court held that even if the defendant had actual knowledge, there was no practical way that any warning could have avoided the danger to the plaintiff.

The Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A. provides advice and attorney representation to injured people pursuing personal injury claims.  Our accident attorneys handle a diverse range of legal matters, including medical malpractice lawsuits, wrongful death actions, automobile collisions, and other cases involving negligent defendants.  Schedule your initial consultation by calling Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or completing our online contact form.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Evaluates Circumstantial Evidence in Lead Paint Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 12, 2016

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Proceed in Lead Paint Lawsuit Against Property Owner, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 20, 2016

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