Premises Liability Action for Exposure to Asbestos in California

In Campbell v. Ford Motor Co. (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 15, the plaintiff filed a premises liability action against Ford Motor Company, alleging that she contracted mesothelioma as a result of her secondary exposure to asbestos, which occurred when she shook out and laundered her father's and brother's work clothes. The evidence showed that Ford hired a general contractor in the 1940's to construct a plant; the contractor hired a subcontractor; and that subcontractor hired another subcontractor, which employed the plaintiff's father and brother, who were exposed to asbestos on the job. (Id. at p. 31, fn. 6.) Following a jury verdict, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff. (Id. at p. 23.) Ford argued on appeal that "it owed the plaintiff no duty as a matter of law because a 'property owner is not responsible for injuries caused by the acts or omissions of an independent contractor unless the property owner controlled the work that allegedly caused the injury, or failed to warn of a known pre-existing concealed hazardous condition on the property.'" (Campbell, supra, 206 Cal.App.4th at p. 29.) The Campbell court reversed, but not on the narrow ground asserted by Ford. The Campbell court rephrased the issue as follows: "In our view, the issue before us is whether a premises owner has a duty to protect family members of workers on its premises from secondary exposure to asbestos used during the course of the property owner's business. Our examination of the Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, factors leads us to the conclusion Ford owed the plaintiff no duty of care." (Campbell, supra, 206 Cal.App.4th at p. 29.) "Here, even assuming a property owner can reasonably be expected to foresee the risk of latent disease to a worker's family members secondarily exposed to asbestos used on its premises, we must conclude strong public policy considerations counsel against imposing a duty of care on property owners for such secondary exposure. (See O'Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 335, 364-365 'strong policy considerations counsel against imposing a duty of care on pump and valve manufacturers to prevent asbestos-related disease'.) The Rowland factors do not support a finding of duty in this case." (Campbell, supra, at p. 32.)