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Are Employers Responsible for Asbestos Fibers That Follow Workers Home?

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on June 1, 2021

Asbestos is an incredibly pervasive substance that can easily follow a worker home on clothing, tools, a lunch box or the seat belt of a car. Microscopic asbestos particles that enter the home can be enough to give the worker’s family members serious and terminal illnesses, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. If an individual gets sick from contact with a worker or objects that have been contaminated with asbestos, the worker’s employer could be legally and financially responsible.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that occurs naturally. It consists of tiny particles that are often mixed with dust. Asbestos was widely used as a popular building and construction material before it was recognized for its carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties. Today, asbestos still exists in millions of buildings and products, putting many people at risk of exposure. Those who work in certain industries, such as construction, electrical, heating and air, shipbuilding, and auto work are most at risk of asbestos exposure.

What Are the Dangers of Asbestos?

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos can have deadly consequences. The particles can get lodged in the body’s internal tissues – particularly the lining that surrounds organs such as the lungs and heart. They will stay there for decades, with no treatment or surgery able to extract them. Over time, the particles can irritate the tissues enough to create a tumor that can become cancerous. This type of cancer is known as mesothelioma.

Even if asbestos does not cause mesothelioma, it can have other negative health consequences, such as asbestosis. This is a condition that can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest from inflammation and scar tissue in the lungs. Anyone exposed to any amount of asbestos, even a small amount, could be a risk of serious illnesses. This includes people who live with someone who has been exposed to asbestos.

Can I Sue If I Was Exposed to Asbestos at Work?

Although nothing can make up for an incurable illness related to asbestos exposure, lawsuits can allow victims to seek justice and accountability. Every year, thousands of victims file asbestos lawsuits in pursuit of financial compensation for their current and future medical expenses, losses of income, physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, and reduced quality of life.

If you are exposed to asbestos at work in New York, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against your employer, a product manufacturer or another party. Filing a lawsuit requires evidence of negligence in connection to your illness. Negligence in personal injury law is any type of carelessness that results in injury or harm to another person. If your employer knew of the risk of asbestos exposure but failed to provide the correct personal protective equipment, for example, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against the company.

Symptoms of Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Secondary asbestos exposure, or exposure from particles that are attached to a worker’s clothes or belongings, can lead to the same health issues and illnesses as primary exposure. A victim may experience the following symptoms

  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness

Keep in mind that symptoms can take at least 20 years after the initial date of asbestos exposure to appear. Go to a doctor right away if you believe you are experiencing the symptoms of secondary asbestos exposure. Explain that you may have been exposed through a household member that works in construction or another high-risk industry.

Are Employers Responsible for Asbestos Fibers That Follow Workers Home?

Yes, employers can be responsible for asbestos fibers that follow workers home and make other members of the household ill. If a victim can prove that his or her cancer or illness would not have happened were it not for the careless or negligent acts of the employer, the employer can be held liable. It may be possible for a worker’s spouse, child, parent, roommate or another household member to file an asbestos lawsuit for exposure.

In Haver v. BNSF Railway, the California Supreme Court ruled that an employer can be held liable for asbestos-related injuries and illnesses that are sustained in places other than the factory floor. This lawsuit involved a woman who allegedly lost her life due to asbestos fibers carried home by her husband, a former railroad worker. The California Supreme Court ruled that a company’s duty of care – the legal responsibility to maintain a safe workplace – does extend to nonemployees who are family and household members of the employee.

Note, however, that the precedent set in this California Supreme Court case may not apply to future cases involving asbestos fibers carried home by workers. It does not guarantee that an injured family member will have the right to file a lawsuit against an employer for asbestos exposure. The courts make rulings on a case-by-case basis.

What Do I Do If My Employer Isn’t Following OSHA Asbestos Standards?

Doctors and scientists have recognized the extreme risks presented by asbestos for the last few decades. If a work environment or type of work may expose workers to asbestos fibers, the employer has a legal obligation to take certain steps to protect employees. This responsibility includes obeying asbestos safety standards put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

You have the right to expect a safe workplace under federal health and safety laws. If you believe your employer isn’t following OSHA standards or safety regulations, stand up for your rights. File an official safety hazard complaint with your manager or the human resources department.

If your employer still doesn’t remedy the issue, report the matter to OSHA. OSHA receives safety complaints online, over the phone and via mail. OSHA can inspect your workplace and force your employer to improve safety measures, if applicable, to keep you and your loved ones safe from asbestos.

When to Contact an Asbestos Attorney in New York

If you or a member of your household has been diagnosed with an illness or condition related to asbestos exposure in New York, don’t hesitate to contact The Williams Law Firm, P.C. We can help you understand your rights and defend them against an insurance company. Even if your employer has since gone out of business, we can help you seek financial compensation through alternative outlets, such as asbestos trust funds.

Your family may be entitled to financial compensation for asbestos fibers that followed a worker home. Discuss your legal options for free with an attorney today. Call (855) 955-1419 now to request a free consultation.


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