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Court: Marriage before asbestos exposure not required

Earlier this month, an appeals court handed down an interesting ruling in connection with an asbestos claim filed by the wife of a man who contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos at work. Overturning a lower court's ruling, the three-judge panel ruled that the husband and wife need not have been married at the time of the husband's asbestos exposure in order for the wife to have a valid claim of loss of consortium.

The lawsuit was initially filed by the husband, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011 after being exposed to asbestos during his time in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and 1960s. In the suit, he named an auto parts manufacturer and several other companies for negligence and products liability, arguing that the use of asbestos in the companies' products caused his exposure and eventual mesothelioma diagnosis.

The man's wife also filed a claim for loss of consortium against the same defendants, alleging that their use of asbestos caused her to lose the benefit of her relationship with her husband.

In response, at least one defendant moved for a dismissal of the loss of consortium claim, arguing that the couple was not yet married when the husband was exposed to asbestos so the wife's claim was invalid. A lower court granted the motion, but the appeals court later overturned the dismissal. In the context of a latent disease such as mesothelioma, the court ruled, an injury to a spouse occurs when the illness is discovered or diagnosed, not when the harm that causes the disease takes place.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Asbestos Victim Wins California Appeal Ruling in Loss of Consortium Claim," June 11, 2012

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