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  • Illinois Supreme Court Fails to Resolve Issue of Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

    On March 22, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its decision in Simpkins v. CSX Transport. Inc.(Docket No. 110662). The Court had an opportunity to resolve a contentious issue that has split courts across the country, but declined to do so.

    The issue was whether a party owes a legal duty for secondhand asbestos exposure. CSX argued that employers do not owe any duty to a third-party, nonemployee, who comes into contact with its employee’s asbestos-tainted work clothing at locations away from the workplace.

    Unfortunately, the majority’s decision delivered by Justices Garman, Kilbride, Karmeier and Theis did not resolve this substantive question. Instead, the Illinois Supreme Court remanded the case to the Circuit Court in Madison County, Illinois, to allow the plaintiff to amend her complaint with additional allegations that CSXwould have been able to reasonably foresee the spouse’s injury from coming into contact with her husband’s clothing tainted with asbestos while working for CSX.

    The majority’s opinion reiterated that Illinois law recognizes that “every person owes a duty of ordinary care to all others to guard against injuries which naturally flow as a reasonably probable and foreseeable consequence of an act, and such a duty does not depend upon contract, privity of interest or the proximity of relationship, but extends to remote and unknown persons.”

    Justices Freeman and Burke dissented and argued that they would have held that no legal duty is owed for secondhand asbestos exposure as a matter of public policy. The practical effect of the majority’s decision is that in Illinois the courthouse door will remain wide open for an even greater number of plaintiffs to seek damages against defendants they never worked for and whose products they never directly contacted.

    The full opinion can be found at: http://www.state.il.us/court/opinions/SupremeCourt/2012/110662.pdf

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