For 34 years between 1952 and 1986, Ernest Rymaszewski worked as a welder, trucker, lineman, and laborer in various locations across the U.S. In addition, he did his own auto repairs and home maintenance and remodeling. Last summer, Rymaszewski was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. His experience is not unique. Most mesothelioma victims were exposed to asbestos fibers from multiple sources; it is one reason that most asbestos lawsuits name dozens of defendants (though in many cases, the suits wind up focusing on only one to three). What does make Rymaszewski’s case unusual (but not unique) is that the complaint alleges asbestos exposure resulting from fibers carried home on his wife’s clothing. Mrs. Rymaszewski worked on an assembly line during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The lawsuit states that “dust created by working with and around asbestos and asbestos-containing products would permeate the person and clothing of the plaintiff’s wife… this dust contained asbestos fiber… the plaintiff would be repeatedly exposed to this asbestos dust from his wife’s person and clothing.” Thanks to a case in Washington State earlier this year, precedent is on Rymaszewski’s side.
Last summer, a court in Snohomish County, about 25 miles north of Seattle, ruled that “an employer has a duty to protect family members from asbestos on workers’ clothes” (see “Employers’ Responsibility Toward Employee Family Members,” 29 August). The plaintiff in the Washington case had been employed in a Scott Paper (now Kimberly-Clark) pulp mill for many years; his wife, who contracted mesothelioma, was exposed to asbestos fibers on the plaintiff’s clothing in the same manner as Rymaszewski. Rymaszewski alleges that “…exposure and inhalation, ingestion and absorption of the asbestos fibers was completely foreseeable and could have been anticipated by the defendants.” Because of the dysfunctional state of the health care “system” in the U.S., Rymaszewski has been forced to turn to the courts in order to get compensation for his considerable medical expenses related to mesothelioma treatment. He is asking for a total of a quarter million in damages on grounds of negligence and conspiracy on part of the defendants.