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Asbestos Ruling Shuts the Door on Secondary Exposure Cases

Carolyn Miller had no direct relationship or contact with Ford Motor Co. other than through her stepfather, whose employer was contracted to do some work at a Ford plant. In the legal terms, that made Miller a "third party."

But when she died of lung cancer, her estate sued Ford. Miller's lawyers took the position that she contracted the disease after washing her stepfather's clothes from time to time during the 11 years he worked at an asbestos-tainted Ford facility in Michigan.

In addition to the relationship of the parties, other relevant considerations included the foreseeability of the harm, the burden on the defendant and the nature of the risk presented. Liability didn't inure unless both the necessary relationship and the foreseeability of harm existed. If they did, the court would go on to assess the burden on the defendant and the nature of the risk to determine whether to impose a duty.

Here, the relationship between Miller and Ford was "highly tenuous," which strongly suggested no duty should be imposed.


Julius Melnitzer

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