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Texas court finds 1972 as key to mesothelioma ‘forseeability’

August 9th, 2006

Texas’ 14th District Court of Appeals has overruled a verdict of nearly $2 million in favor of the wife of an ExxonMobil Corp. employee who, for 30 years, was exposed to asbestos fibers on her husband’s work clothes and said she developed lung cancer as a result.

The court held that Exxon was not aware of the risk of asbestos exposure to the families of its employees until 1972. Since then, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has forbidden employers to let asbestos workers wear their work clothes home.

Louise Altimore’s husband, Mike, worked at Exxon’s facility in Baytown, Texas from 1942 to 1972. She claimed she got lung cancer from exposure to asbestos while washing the work clothes of her husband, who died in 1992 of pulmonary problems and heart failure. She sued and, in May 2004 a jury found Exxon negligent and awarded Altimore $1.98 million in actual and punitive damages.

The question was whether Exxon had a duty to inform Altimore at a time when such injury was considered a “medical curiosity.” The court looked at foreseeability and found 1972 was a crucial year in the history of asbestos research. The appeals court, citing trial records, said, “By 1972, experts were in agreement, if a person gets enough exposure to asbestos, that person could get asbestosis and cancer,” the appeals court said, citing trial records.

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