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Superior Court: Employer Owes No Duty to Employee's Spouse

Posted In Toxic Torts
In re: Asbestos Litig., 2007 WL 4571196 (Del. Super. Ct. Dec. 21, 2007).

In this negligence action, a wife alleged that she was exposed to asbestos while laundering her husband’s work clothes. The employer moved for summary judgment, claiming it owed no duty to an employee’s spouse who had never set foot on company property and had only been injured as a result of take-home exposure.  This argument presented an issue of first impression in Delaware. 

In addressing the core question of when a duty of care arises, the court conducted a review of the doctrinal approaches advanced throughout the history of tort law, from Cardozo’s foreseeability analysis to Learned Hand’s B<PL formula. The court observed that none of these approaches had been adopted in Delaware to the exclusion of the others. Instead, it was up to the court to consider the relationship of the parties in each particular case in light of its peculiar facts.
Here, the court held that there was not a legally significant relationship between the employer and the employee’s spouse to create a legal obligation. Further, the court noted that no duty could be justified under the foreseeability analysis or the “risk-benefit method,” because the plaintiff was not a reasonably foreseeable victim and the burden upon an employer to protect every potentially foreseeable victim would be too great. Share
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