• TVA Responsible for Foreseeable Secondhand Asbestos Death
  • July 28, 2017
  • An Eleventh Circuit panel affirmed most of a $3.5 million award against the objections of the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”), who was held liable for the death of the wife of one of its former employees. The woman contracted pleural mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. For over 20 years, she washed her husband’s work clothes, which were covered in asbestos fibers.

    According to the opinion of the Eleventh Circuit, the TVA was negligent in failing to protect the wife of an employee from foreseeable secondhand contact with asbestos. The TVA had actual knowledge of the dangers of asbestos and the possibility of secondhand exposure, but failed to take the steps required to prevent employees from unknowingly carrying asbestos fibers home on their clothes. This lack of proper protection foreseeably led to the secondhand exposure of the wife of a TVA employee.

    The Eleventh Circuit held that, under Alabama law, foreseeability of asbestos exposure creates a duty to protect both employees and their families. The TVA’s failure to do such things as provide employees with protective clothing or separate showers hastened the wife’s death due to pleural mesothelioma, and caused her immense suffering. This is not the first time the TVA has come under fire for negligent practices. The TVA was responsible for a large spill of coal ash in 2008. Exposure to the heavy metals in coal ash is known to be a cause of birth defects.

    What is Secondhand Asbestos Exposure?

    Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that, when inhaled, can lead to serious and deadly diseases such as lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. While most victims of asbestos exposure were tradesmen and industrial workers who came in direct contact with asbestos daily in their work environment, the families of these workers were sometimes exposed through secondhand, or household, exposure.

    Secondhand asbestos exposure most frequently occurred when a worker returned home from the jobsite, and unintentionally carried the deadly asbestos fibers into the household on his clothes. The wife or children of the worker, shaking out his clothes to do laundry, would unknowingly cast the fibers into the air and inhale them. Repeated secondhand exposure to asbestos can lead to the same serious diseases as occupational exposure, such as pleural mesothelioma.