Delaware Sets New Precedent for Spouses With Secondary Asbestos Exposure

The Delaware Supreme Court ruled in favor of a spouse claiming her fatal lung cancer was derived from toxic secondary asbestos exposure.

Dorothy Ramsey sued 2 manufacturing companies that supplied asbestos-based products following her diagnosis, claiming they were negligent in protecting her and her husband from dangerous levels of asbestos.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure “Take Home” Case

From 1967 to 1992, Dorothy Ramsey’s husband, Robert Ramsey, worked as a maintenance worker at Haveg Industries Inc. For 25 years, Robert was exposed to deadly asbestos through handling products supplied by the Georgia Southern University Advanced Development Center, or “Herty” in this case, and Hollingsworth and Vose Company.

After developing lung cancer, Dorothy took the manufacturers to court, alleging she developed her terminal illness from secondary asbestos exposure due to handling and laundering Mr. Ramsey’s work clothing.

Initial Case Ruling

At first, the trial court sided with the defendants, exonerating them from liability and ruling that the manufacturers had no obligation to warn spouses of the dangers of asbestos exposure. Mrs. Ramsey died of her lung cancer in 2015.

Since her passing, lawyers for the estate appealed the verdict, arguing that the employers had a duty to warn employees of the dangers of laundering contaminated clothing off-site. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed the initial decision after reviewing the appeal, claiming Mrs. Ramsey did, in fact, have a viable claim against the manufacturers.

A New Precedent in “Take Home” Cases

By reversing the decision, the court supported the plaintiff’s claim that the manufacturing companies failed to warn her of the dangers she faced while handling her husband’s asbestos-laden clothing for so many years.

This ruling effectively sets a new precedent in case law, which previously laid out that employers have no duty to spouses—only to the employees themselves.

The reversal is good news for those filing future secondary asbestos exposure cases. While plaintiffs in similar cases may not have had courts on their side, the most recent ruling sets a positive precedent moving forward for similar claims.

Victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer or other illnesses of long-term asbestos exposure may just have more luck seeking justice for wrongdoing in asbestos-related cases.

What Is Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

Secondary asbestos exposure—also referred to as “domestic” or “take home” exposure—refers to the exposure received by women, children and siblings who shared homes with men working closely with asbestos. It occurs when coming into close contact with asbestos fibers brought into the home such as through hair or clothing.

Mrs. Ramsey isn’t the first woman to claim her fatal cancer was a result of her secondary exposure to asbestos. In fact, a large number of 30 to 40 year old women—about 8% annually—are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

According to a 1997 study conducted by Durham and Duke University Medical Centers involving women with mesothelioma, more than half of those diagnosed were exposed through household contact with individuals who worked with asbestos.

There are several scenarios in which secondary exposure may have occurred, including:

  • Women frequently handled laundry covered in asbestos fibers
  • Men who worked closely with asbestos products gave affection to spouses, siblings or children upon coming home
  • Laborers tracked asbestos fibers into the home via hair, clothes, shoes, etc.
  • Families that lived in close proximity to asbestos-contaminated mines or factories inhaled asbestos for several years

Secondary asbestos exposure is an under-recognized problem. It’s important for anyone who lived with someone who worked with asbestos to be aware that they too can possibly develop an illness like mesothelioma.

For more information on asbestos risks and how you may have been exposed, contact our Justice Support Team. Contact us at (888) 360-4215 or request our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide to learn the next steps to take.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: May 29, 2019

View 2 Sources
  1. Deleware Law Weekly, “ Del. Justices Toss Case Law Shielding Employers From Tort Liability to Spouses in ‘Take-Home’ Asbestos Case” Retrieved from https://www.law.com/delawarelawweekly/2018/06/28/del-justices-toss-case-law-shielding-employers-from-tort-liability-to-spouses-in-take-home-asbestos-case/?slreturn=20180604155818 Accessed on July 12, 2018
  2. Supreme Court of the State of Delaware, “RAMSEY V. GEORGIA SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY ADVANCED DEVELOPMENT CENTER and HOLLINGSWORTH § AND VOSE COMPANY”. https://courts.delaware.gov/Opinions/Download.aspx?id=275060 Accessed on July 13, 2018