Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Court of Appeal Clarifies Liability for Secondhand Chemical Exposure
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Motion picture film processor Technicolor Inc. did not have a duty to protect its employees’ family members from contact with toxic vapors brought home on employees’ clothing, this district’s Court of Appeal held yesterday.
Div. Eight held that the widow of an employee who died of a brain tumor could not hold the company liable for secondhand exposure where she failed to specify any injury to herself or the toxin allegedly responsible, or how that toxin could have entered her body.
Writing for the court, Justice Madeleine Flier said that Geraldine Oddone’s allegations “simply do not establish any connection, much less a close connection, between [Technicolor’s] conduct and her alleged (and unspecified) injuries.”
Oddone’s late husband, James Oddone, worked for Technicolor from 1973 until 2006 with toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and perchloroethylene. He developed glioblastoma multiforme and died of the disease in January 2007, and his wife sued Technicolor the following year on the theory that the tumor was caused by exposure “to the chemical substances.”
One cause of action in the complaint alleged that her husband brought home toxic vapors and chemicals on his clothing and person, and that she was injured by her exposure to them.
Geraldine Oddone claimed that Technicolor had a duty to safely operate its premises, including a duty to protect “the spouses and family members of employees from coming into contact with the chemical substances used at the Technicolor facility.”
She also alleged that Technicolor had a duty to warn her husband of the dangerous condition on its premises and failed to do so, and that this “failure to warn caused James Oddone to return home after work with chemicals on his body and clothing, thereby causing his wife…to suffer secondary chemical exposure when [she] slept next to her husband at night, washed James Oddone’s work clothes, and was intimate with James Oddone.”
Geraldine Oddone failed, however, to identify which chemicals her husband allegedly brought home, or how they had injured her.
Technicolor demurred to that particular cause of action on the ground that it did not owe a duty of care to Oddone and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura A. Matz sustained the demurrer without leave to amend.
Oddone sought a writ of mandate, but Flier agreed with the trial court that Oddone could not show a close connection between Technicolor’s conduct and an injury.
Noting the apparent absence of any reported decision addressing the scope of a defendant’s duty where a plaintiff claims secondhand exposure to chemicals, the justice said that the California Supreme Court’s 1999 decision on firsthand exposure in Bockrath v. Aldrich Chemical Co. 21 Cal.4th 71 provided standards to measure Oddone’s allegations.
“The lesson from [Bockrath] is that a plaintiff claiming to have been injured by an exposure to chemicals must specify the chemical that caused the injury and in the course of doing so must of course also specify the injury,” Flier wrote. “Importantly, he must also allege that as a result of the exposure the specified toxin entered his body.
“We do not think that it makes a difference that the plaintiff is claiming injury as a result of secondary exposure. If anything, the foregoing requirements are even more apropos in such a case because the connection between the defendant’s acts and the claimed injury is more attenuated than in a primary exposure case.”
Justice Tricia A. Bigelow and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Helen I. Bendix, sitting by assignment, joined Flier in her opinion.
The case is Oddone v. Superior Court (Technicolor, Inc.), 09 S.O.S. 6743.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company