I came across an interesting lawsuit out of Texas. Apparently, the family of a deceased woman, Claudia Headley, is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against several asbestos manufacturers after contracting mesothelioma and passing away in 2008. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is almost always caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers.
The woman did not work directly with any asbestos materials, but washed the clothes of her father, husband, and son, all of whom worked in an oil refinery. For roughly forty years, Ms. Headley suffered second hand exposure to asbestos because the asbestos dust covered her family's clothes. It was enough exposure to cause her mesothelioma.
One difficulty that the plaintiffs will run into is showing that Ms. Headley's death was foreseeable. Asbestos manufacturers are liable to the workers who died from breathing in their dangerous product because it was known and kept secret for decades that asbestos could cause cancer. It is a bit of a jump, however, to say that it was foreseeable that even washing the laundry of men exposed to asbestos could be sufficient to cause mesothelioma. It is a bit like a non-smoker suing a tobacco company for lung cancer caused by second hand smoke. If the defendant can prove that her death was not foreseeable, they may be able to escape liability.
It is also worth noting that it does not take direct or constant exposure to asbestos materials to develop asbestosis or mesothelioma. Even second hand or minor amounts of contact can be sufficient to contract the deadly disease.