“Take Home” and “Bystander” Asbestos Cases on the Rise as a New York Jury Awards a $7.7 Million Verdict

There has been an increase in asbestos cases where the injured party did not directly work with an asbestos containing product. Last month we reported on a California court allowing a “take home” exposure case to proceed where a nephew claimed exposure to asbestos from being at his uncle’s house and near his uncle in his work clothes. Take home exposure cases have traditionally been a spouse exposed to asbestos from laundering asbestos laden work clothes over a number of years,  as opposed to visiting family members.

On December 19, 2014, a jury in Syracuse, New York awarded a $7.7 million verdict in a “bystander” exposure case. Bystander exposure is an indirect form of occupational exposure. Examples of bystander exposure range from carpenters working at construction sites in the vicinity of  plaster workers using asbestos containing joint compound to sailors on a ship having pipe insulation repaired near them while they are standing watch.

In the Syracuse case, plaintiff’s decedent, Lewis Nash, died of mesothelioma at the age of 81. He worked for the Fayetteville-Manlius school district as a bus driver from 1957 to 1994, when he retired. He was not responsible for any repairs or maintenance on any of the buses. However, he spent time in the maintenance garage where he would clock in for his shift, submit work forms and engage in conversations with the mechanics. His exposure at the bus garage was claimed to have been from the garage mechanics using friction products, such as brakes, gaskets and clutches. As such, Mr. Nash’s exposure to asbestos was strictly bystander exposure as related to Navistar. Mr. Nash worked at several other jobs, including a foundry, and it appears that his bystander exposure to asbestos through Navistar was minimal at best. Mr. Nash’s primary job duties were outside of the garage and outside of the vicinity of the mechanics doing their work. As far as it is known,  none of the other bus drivers or mechanics at the subject garage have had any asbestos related claims.

The plaintiff’s bar has continued to seek to expand the scope of liability in bystander and take home asbestos exposure cases. According to plaintiff’s counsel, the $7.7 million verdict is the largest asbestos suit verdict awarded in Syracuse. Such a verdict is testament to the fact that a jury is willing to award a substantial amount in a case where there was very limited exposure to products that a plaintiff did not directly work with. The continuation of rulings as in the California case and verdicts as in the Syracuse case will lead to a continued rise in these types of “indirect” asbestos exposure cases.

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