In affirming the entry of summary judgment we obtained on behalf of our client, the Illinois Appellate Court rejected an asbestos plaintiff’s attempt to extend a duty in a premises liability case to a person who had no contact with the premises, but claimed injury from household exposure to asbestos fibers brought home on work clothes worn by a worker at our client’s premises. Nelson v. Aurora Equipment Company, 909 N.E.2d 931 (2d Dist. 2009).
The appellate court upheld the entry of summary judgment we obtained in Kane County, Illinois on behalf of defendant Aurora Equipment, ruling that an insufficient relationship existed between the decedent and Aurora Equipment’s premises to impose a duty on the premises owner to protect her from injury due to asbestos fibers allegedly released at the workplace of her spouse and son.
Plaintiffs Vernon Nelson and John Nelson, spouse and son respectively of the decedent, Eva Nelson, alleged Eva was exposed to asbestos fibers brought home on their clothes as part of their work at Aurora Equipment. Plaintiffs further alleged Aurora Equipment breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe place for persons lawfully on the premises and to those who could foreseeably be harmed by dangerous conditions on the premises. Eva Nelson was never on the premises. We filed a motion for summary judgment arguing no duty applied under Illinois law. The motion was granted, and plaintiffs appealed.
On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the court’s duty inquiry should focus almost exclusively on whether the decedent’s injury was foreseeable. We responded that the issue of foreseeability should not be considered in the absence of a relationship between the parties. The appellate court rejected plaintiffs’ argument, holding that in Illinois “the touchstone of a duty analysis is to ask whether the plaintiff and defendant stood in such a relationship to one another that the law imposed upon the defendant an obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff.” The court then found that Eva Nelson had no relationship with Aurora Equipment, having never been on the premises and having encountered no condition on the premises.
This result is in marked contrast to the opinion of the Fifth District Appellate Court in Simpkins v. CSX, which found a duty based upon “foreseeable injury,” and ignored the decision we obtained in the Nelson case. A resolution by the Illinois Supreme Court is now ripe to clarify the issue of a premise owner’s duty and secondary asbestos exposure.
If you would like a copy of these decisions, or need further information about these issues, please feel free to contact Ed Matushek.