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The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Alcoa Inc. can be sued for the asbestos-related death of a former employee’s daughter. The court decided the company had a duty to prevent others from being exposed to the contaminated clothes of its employees. The suit was dismissed by Blount County, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the decision. Alcoa appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Amanda Satterfield died of mesothelioma in 2005 at the age of twenty-five. Ms. Satterfield originally sued the company in 2003, claiming the asbestos dust her father carried home in his clothes caused her cancer. Doug Satterfield, who hauled asbestos for the company, is now continuing the case on behalf of his daughter, which is looking for $10 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages.

There are many of these types of cases throughout the United States now. It is becoming more common for family members to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is only caused by asbestos exposure in the United States. These are often called “household exposure” or “second-hand exposure” cases. Typically, it takes 30-40 years for mesothelioma to develop after asbestos exposure. Unlike other asbestos diseases that require years of continued exposure (like asbestosis), many experts believe that mesothelioma can develop after as little as one day’s exposure. Additionally, unlike when employees were poisoned by their employers (usually in the 1970’s and earlier) by being required to work around, in, and with asbestos products (not knowing that it was a toxic dust), a family member can sue the employer in a personal injury case. An employee cannot bring such a suit in most states because the only remedy is through the state’s worker’s compensation laws.

This decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court was the correct decision. These employers knew, or should have known, of the hazards of asbestos exposure to, not only their employees, but their employee’s family members. The workers, often covered in asbestos dust from a hard day’s work, would, unknowingly, transport the dust home to their families. Often, a small child would get in her father’s lap at the end of the work day while dad read to the child, or a homemaker would breathe the dust when laundering the family’s clothing. These cases are truly tragic, and the responsible parties should be held accountable. This is an example of the justice system working as it should.

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