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.
Ruben Honik of Golomb & Honik, 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.”