Employers’ Responsibility Toward Employee Family Members

When Larry Rochon of Everett Washington filed a wrongful death suit against his former employer, the county judge ruled that an employer’s duty of care in the matter of asbestos exposure did not extend to the employee’s family. A Washington State appellate court disagrees. Adeline Rochon was diagnosed with mesothelioma in November of 2004. She died a year and a half later, just 39 days short of the couple’s golden wedding anniversary. Mesothelioma is almost invariably caused by asbestos exposure. In the case of the late Mrs. Rochon, this exposure was the result of asbestos fibers that had been carried home from her husband’s place of employment on his work clothing, which she shook off into the air of the home laundry room and washed every night for several years. At the time, Larry Rochon was employed by the Scott Paper Corporation.

He brought suit against the company’s successor, Kimberly-Clark, claiming that management had neglected its duty to warn employees about the asbestos exposure and how these fibers could be brought into employee’s homes. The Washington State Court of Appeals has now reversed the lower court ruling, which allows Rochon and his attorney to proceed with the lawsuit. According to Rochon’s attorney, this ruling sets a precedent. He says, “For the first time a Washington court says an employer has a duty to protect family members from asbestos on workers’ clothes.” Rochon agrees: “I think it’s a breakthrough,” he said. “There are a lot of people now who could come forward.”

Because the United States doesn’t offer single-payer health care to all its citizens in the way that many other industrialized nations do, and because Washington D.C. lawmakers often favor the interests of for-profit private insurers who seem to look for ways to refuse coverage even when policies are paid up, Rochon became yet another hard-working American who was forced to give up everything he worked for in order to pay for his wife’s medical bills. His retirement savings now gone, Rochon thinks his children should receive the proceeds of any judgment.