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Duty of Employer to Employee’s Girlfriend in Premises Liability Case

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A woman who suffered exposure to beryllium on her boyfriend’s work clothes, filed a case against the boyfriend’s employer, Accuratus Corp. The issue in the case was whether the duty of a landowner continues beyond the spouse of an individual who is exposed to toxic chemicals on the landowner’s property.

The plaintiff’s attorney tried to persuade the court to adopt a liberal interpretation of its premises liability decision in Olivo v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 895 A.2d 11413 (N.J. 2006). In Olivo, the court held that a landowner may face liability for asbestos to the spouse of a welder who has contact with asbestos on the landowner’s property. The court reasoned that it was foreseeable that the plaintiff’s wife would be harmed from such exposure because she normally engages in household chores, including washing her husband’s clothes.

Here, the plaintiff, Brenda Schwartz, resided with, but was not the spouse of, her now-husband, Paul, at the time he had contact with beryllium. The couple filed claims that Brenda was exposed to beryllium when Paul and another roommate went home with beryllium on their clothes.

The U. S. District for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the complaint of premises liability, and held that Olivo was restricted to the employee’s spouse. On appeal, the couple contended that Olivo does not restrict the holding to the employee’s spouse, and there is no rule that an employer’s obligation to prevent such exposure applies only to spouses. The Third Circuit certified the issue to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Plaintiff’s counsel said that the court should contemplate how the injury occurred in deciding whether the employer owed a duty to Mrs. Schwartz. Also relevant to duty is knowledge of the toxin and its latency period.

If you, your spouse, or other family member was injured due to exposure to a toxic chemical in your workplace, call the premises liability lawyers at Rudnick, Addonizo, Pappa & Casazza.

They may conduct an investigation into the matter, and may be able to hold the responsible parties liable for your injury. Your employer should be responsible for maintaining the premises in a safe manner so as to prevent any contact with toxic substances.

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