A recent ruling out of Washington said that, though there are certain exceptions to the no fault workers’ comp laws in the state, asbestos related diseases are not one of them and the employer cannot be held liable or subject to an outside lawsuit.
The court made this decision on the basis that it would be impossible to know for sure that an injury would occur to an employee. If an employee was able to prove their employer knew for sure that an injury or disease would occur, they might be able to pursue a case.
The matter was brought to the court through a suit involving the Boeing Company, whose former employee that had worked in their hammer shop for 36 years fashioning airplane parts developed mesothelioma later on. He said that he had worked with products that contained asbestos and at one point was working directly under crews who were repairing pipes containing asbestos insulation- the debris would fall on top of his work station and employees were left unprotected even though crews working above were in heavy “moon suits” as he called them. The court ruled that since the employee could not prove whether Boeing knew that an asbestos-related injury was absolutely going to occur later on, that Boeing was off the hook. Though they may have acted with negligence, they did not act deliberately, ruled the court.
There was one dissenting opinion, from Justice Charles Wiggins, who said that since it was not only the employer’s responsibility but the court’s responsibility to encourage safe work environments, he believed they should hold the employer liable if they caused harm to their employees. He said that the only way someone can develop mesothelioma is to inhale asbestos, and since Boeing knowingly had asbestos in their work environments that was as good as knowing that an injury would occur.
“It would undermine the purpose of the statute if an employer could implant a ticking time bomb in an employee’s body and escape liability simply because the particular injury that resulted could not be predicted with absolute certainty,” he wrote in his opinion.
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