California Court of Appeal Upholds Summary Judgment in Favor of Defendant Pipe Manufacturer in Fatal Product Liability Action

6208492233_af4864ab50In a recent case, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District upheld a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant pipe manufacturer on the basis that the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy was through the workers’ compensation system.

In Melendrez et al. v. Ameron International Corp., one of the defendant’s employees, who had been employed with the defendant for nearly 25 years, was authorized to take home pipes that had been rejected at the manufacturing plant so that he could use them for improvements to his patio at home and to create flower pots. Sometime in 2011, the man was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and he unfortunately died one year later.

The man’s surviving heirs filed a lawsuit against the decedent’s employer, seeking damages for wrongful death and asserting that the decedent suffered exposure to asbestos from the rejected pipes that he was permitted to take home each day. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff’s claims for wrongful death based on a theory of product liability were barred pursuant to the exclusivity rule, which holds that an employee who suffers work-related injuries is barred from pursuing a civil action against that employer, and that the employee’s sole remedy is through the workers’ compensation system.

After the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs appealed. On review, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that, while a triable issue of fact existed regarding whether the decedent’s asbestos exposure at home occurred in the course and scope of his employment, the determination of the issue was not material to the defendant’s exclusivity defense.

Additionally, the court concluded that the decedent’s exposure to asbestos at the defendant’s factory during the course of his employment “substantially contributed” to the decedent’s development of mesothelioma. Pursuant to California’s so-called “contributing cause” standard, the decedent’s exposure to asbestos was compensable through the workers’ compensation system. According to the court, the fact that the man was also exposed to asbestos at home by way of the rejected pipes did not provide a basis for bringing an action against the defendant outside the workers’ compensation system.

More specifically, the appellate court stated that the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence showing the extent to which the decedent’s exposure to asbestos at home contributed to his development of mesothelioma, “separate and apart” from his exposure to asbestos in the workplace. At most, the court reasoned, the plaintiffs could contend that his exposure outside work contributed to his development of the disease. Under the workers’ compensation laws, however, the at-home exposure did not create a separate, divisible injury.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to asbestos exposure, or exposure to a defective or poorly designed product, you may be entitled to compensation. At Moll Law Group, our team of experienced and dedicated product liability lawyers has provided compassionate and aggressive legal counsel to many injured individuals. From our main office in Chicago, we proudly serve clients throughout the nation, including in New York, Florida, and Texas. Call us at 312-462-1700 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.