On Friday, August 20, the State Appellate Division upheld an earlier jury verdict awarding $7 million to a woman who claimed she contracted peritoneal mesothelioma by washing her husband’s work clothes. (1)
Both Bonnie and John Anderson worked for the Exxon Bayway Refinery in Linden, NJ, for a number of years; she as an electrician and he as a repairman, working on pumps, filters and pipes. While Bonnie Anderson’s job did not put her in direct contact with asbestos insulation, John Anderson’s did. When he first started working at the refinery, John had to remove the insulation from the pipes he was repairing. (2)
At the original trial it was noted that Exxon held meetings for its employees on safety and issued helmets for them to wear, but did not provide coveralls or other safety attire. As a result, Mr. Anderson worked in his own clothes, which his wife later laundered at home. The clothes, according to Mrs. Anderson, were covered with asbestos fibers. (3)
In 2001, Mrs. Anderson began experiencing pain and swelling in her abdomen. Eventually, she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. (1) Mesothelioma is a cancer that attacks the lining of various body cavities, such as the abdomen. (2) Since her diagnosis, Mrs. Anderson has undergone several surgeries as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She has been unable to return to her other career as a librarian.
Mrs. Anderson originally sued Exxon, now ExxonMobil Corporation, in November 2007 claiming the company failed to adequately educate its employees of the potential dangers of asbestos exposure. At that trial, which was heard in Middlesex County Superior Court, she was awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages only, a verdict the Andersons disputed. The judge ordered a new trial to consider damages only. That time, the jury awarded $7 million in damages plus interest accumulated before and after the trial to Mrs. Anderson and $500,000 to Mr. Anderson for loss of consortium. (2)
Exxon argued that the Andersons’ case was a workmen’s compensation issue, a claim that was rejected by the Appellate Division. The appellate court’s decision supports the notion victims do not have to identify the exact exposure that led to their illness and recognizes rather that all exposures contribute to the illness. (3)
It has not yet been announced whether Exxon will appeal this latest court ruling.