Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Alabama Court Rules Employer Has Duty of Care to Non-Worker in Asbestos Case

August 28, 2014

Huntsville, AL It has been long held by many plaintiffs that asbestos fibers brought home on work clothes from an employee exposed to asbestos can have a detrimental effect on the health of other family members, including the development of asbestosis disease. To that end, a federal court in Alabama has ruled that an employer can be held liable for the death of the spouse of one of its employees from asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis lung disease is but one of a collection of dire health consequences stemming from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is one such consequence, which claimed the life of Barbara Bobo. The late homemaker and spouse of asbestos worker James Bobo claimed, before she died, that she unknowingly breathed into her lungs asbestos fibers and dust from her husband’s work clothes.

She died from asbestosis exposure and mesothelioma in 2013, according to court records.

The defendant in the case, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), had filed for summary judgment to have the asbestosis lawsuit and mesothelioma claim dismissed on grounds that it did not owe a duty of care to Barbara Bobo. The TVA argued that foreseeability of injury was insufficient to create such a duty of care for someone who did not directly work for them.

However, the judge in the case disagreed.

James Bobo had worked at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, a facility operated by the TVA, for a period of about 20 years until 1997. Bobo alleged in the asbestosis lung disease lawsuit that he was exposed to asbestos stemming from thermal insulation used at the facility. The opinion by US District Judge Lynwood Smith noted that the TVA itself had conceded that the thermal insulation it used at the facility did, indeed, contain the deadly carcinogen, and that TVA’s own expert witness had corroborated the testimony of other employees, saying the insulation Bobo had been sweeping up at day’s end “probably was asbestos,” Judge Smith noted in his opinion.

“From this evidence, a reasonable jury could conclude that James Bobo was exposed to asbestos while working at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant,” Judge Smith wrote in his opinion. “Accordingly, plaintiffs can prove that TVA’s breach of duty was the cause in fact of Barbara Bobo's mesothelioma.

“The policy considerations in recognizing a duty to family members of employees in take-home asbestos exposure cases do not outweigh the foreseeability of the injury in a jurisdiction like Alabama that relies heavily on foreseeability in its duty analysis,” Judge Smith wrote in his opinion.

Bobo would sweep up the facility at the end of the day, exposing himself unwittingly to asbestos fibers. While Bobo himself appears to have not, so far, been affected by asbestosis disease, his wife succumbed to asbestosis exposure and died from mesothelioma.

The asbestosis lawsuit is Melissa Ann Bobo et al. v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Case No 5:12-cv-01930, in the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.