Deadly Laundry

The late Maxine Johnson is not the first woman to have contracted an asbestos-related cancer from washing her husband’s work clothing and subsequently died. That is small comfort to Elroyce, her husband of 44 years and a retired plumber. He is now suing Amoco Oil Company and 58 other named defendants on behalf of his late wife’s estate in an action filed on 1 October 2007. Elroyce Johnson worked as a plumber, pipe fitter and carpenter in many chemical plants, as well as refineries and utility companies, in and around Jefferson County, Texas. According to the complaint, “…Mr. Johnson was exposed to asbestos-containing products and exposed Ms. Johnson to asbestos fibers on his clothes when he came home from work… Mrs. Johnson contracted lung cancer as a direct and proximate result of Mr. Johnson’s on the job exposure to asbestos-containing products at… various facilities… [Maxine] was exposed to asbestos as a result of her husband’s work as craftsmen and construction tradesmen at the [defendant’s facilities]… “Plaintiffs assert a claim based on strict products liability against the… Defendants and would show that their asbestos-containing products were unreasonably dangerous and defective.”

Mr. Johnson is suing for wrongful death and punitive damages. Courts in Texas have in recent years been friendlier to corporate interests than those of individual citizens. However, due in large part to a recent court ruling in Washington State, these corporations may very well find themselves being held liable for the death of Maxine Johnson. The Washington State ruling involved a similar case in which a former paper mill worker sued the corporation that had acquired the company for which he worked. That suit also stated that the wife’s mesothelioma had been caused by exposure to asbestos fibers lodged in the plaintiff’s work clothing, which she washed every night for over three decades (see 29 August 2007’s post). The plaintiff in the Washington State lawsuit considered his case to be “a breakthrough,” adding, “There are a lot of people now who could come forward.