Contaminated-Clothing Doctrine in Asbestos Cases Extended

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that nonmarried couples or roommates who become ill after handling the asbestos-tainted clothing could be awarded the same damages as married couples. In the unanimous and precedent-setting decision, the court’s determination will impact corporate liability in certain toxic tort cases by extending who can seek damages from an employer.

The court determined that the 2006 ruling in Olivo v. Owens-Illinois was not limited only to spousal relationships, but extended to protect other members of the same household. According to Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, the court’s reasoning inOlivo “was not so much that Eleanor was married to a worker at Exxon… but that it was foreseeable that she would be handling and laundering the soiled, asbestos-exposed clothes which Exxon… allowed to be taken home by workers."

The original case involved the death of a woman who died after years of washing her husband’s asbestos-tainted clothing. In the case of Schwartz v. Accuratus, in which the new ruling was reached, a woman was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease after handling the tainted clothing of her then-boyfriend and his roommate, another employee of Accuratus Ceramics Corp. The lawsuit, which was originally filed in a Pennsylvania state court, was initially dismissed before being taken to the Supreme Court.

Attorney of Golomb Legal, P.C., who represented Schwartz, opined on this ruling. "It's an excellent opinion that expresses our interpretation of Olivo," he said. "It allows us to pursue the circumstances of our own case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.”