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N.J. Supreme Court rejects Exxon’s appeal in mesothelioma case

The New Jersey Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a $7 million judgment awarded to a woman who was exposed to asbestos while handling her husband’s contaminated clothing.


Bonnie Anderson was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen, in 2001. She later sued Exxon Mobil, claiming she was exposed to asbestos through her own 12-year employment at the Linden Bayway Refinery and from laundering her husband's asbestos-laden work clothes.


John Anderson worked at the refinery from 1969 to 2003, repairing pumps and filters that were covered in asbestos-containing insulation. He has not been diagnosed with asbestos-related illness.


According to court documents, John Anderson used chisels, hand tools or his bare hands to strip the insulation off in chunks, causing the release of asbestos fibers into the air. He also used raw insulation, stored in coffee cans, to seal holes in the filters by hand.


The court heard evidence that Exxon never told workers they were handling asbestos-containing insulation or supplied them with respirators or uniforms. John worked in his own street clothes, which Bonnie always laundered. She testified that she would shake out as much dust as possible, but often complained about the amount of dust in her husband’s clothes and hair.


The jury awarded Bonnie Anderson $500,000 in compensatory damages. In a second trial to determine damages, Anderson was awarded $7 million and her husband $500,000.


Exxon appealed the verdict, claiming the case was barred by provisions in the federal Workers Compensation Act. However, the appellate court rejected Exxon’s argument because the jury had already determined that Anderson’s mesothelioma was caused by “bystander exposures” while she was not employed by Exxon.


It was the first time such a case was upheld on appeal since the N.J. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that people with a secondary exposure to asbestos can sue companies they believe are liable.


An Exxon spokesperson told the Newark Star-Ledger that the company is evaluating its options.


Since her diagnosis, Anderson has undergone three surgeries, numerous heated and traditional chemotherapy sessions, and five and a half weeks of radiation, which eventually caused cancer of the lymph nodes and lymph cells. She needed a partial hip replacement at one point, and must undergo yearly scans to monitor her condition.