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Olivo v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

May 5, 2005

ANTHONY OLIVO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND OWENS-ILLINOIS, INC.; OWENS-CORNING CORP.; GAF CORP.; GARLOCK, INC.; FIBREBOARD CORP.; ARMSTRONG WORLD INDUSTRIES, INC.; TURNER-NEWALL, LTD.; MONSANTO; UNITED STATES GYPSUM CO.; ASBESTOS CLAIMS MANAGEMENT CORP. (F/K/A NATIONAL GYPSUM CO.); FOSTER WHEELER CORP.; FLINTKOTE CO.; FLEXITALLIC, INC.; A.P. GREEN INDUSTRIES, INC.; BRAND INSULATION CO.; AC AND S, INC.; MELRATH GASKET, INC.; JAM INDUSTRIES, INC.; DURAMETALLIC, INC.; W.R. GRACE CO.; RAPID AMERICAN CORP.; CROWN, CORK, & SEAL, ITSELF AND AS SUCCESSOR TO MUNDET CORK; RAYTHEON ENGINEERS (FORMERLY UNITED ENGINEERS); U.S. MINERAL PRODUCTS CO.; U.S. RUBBER CO.; E.I. DUPONT DENEMOURS AND CO., INC.; TEXACO, INC.; B.F. GOODRICH; AND SHELL CHEMICAL CORP., DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-1459-00.

Before Judges Conley, Braithwaite and Lisa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Braithwaite, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION May 5, 2005

Argued April 13, 2005

This appeal is from a summary judgment dismissing a survival and wrongful death action filed by plaintiff Anthony Olivo on his own behalf and on behalf of his deceased wife, Eleanor Olivo ("decedent"), against thirty-two named defendants that manufactured, supplied or installed asbestos products, or owned premises where asbestos products were used. Plaintiff labored as a welder/steamfitter at various locations from 1947 to 1984. In 2000, decedent was diagnosed with mesothelioma from inhaling asbestos while laundering plaintiff's work clothes. She died in 2001.

During the course of litigation, all other defendants settled with plaintiffs, except defendant Exxon Mobil Corporation ("Exxon Mobil"), the landowner of one of the worksites in issue. The motion judge granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, finding that defendant had no duty to decedent. We reverse.

Because this appeal arises on summary judgment, we must view the facts and the inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Strawn v. Canuso, 140 N.J. 43, 48 (1995). From 1947 until his retirement in 1984, plaintiff labored as a welder/steamfitter with Union Local 322. He married decedent in 1943. During the course of his working life, plaintiff was employed by over fifty third-party contractors, working at numerous sites throughout South Jersey, including the Exxon Mobil oil refinery in Paulsboro. Plaintiff worked in the Exxon Mobil refinery between 1951 and 1983, spending an estimated total of three years and seven months at the site. In accordance with his duties as a welder/steamfitter, plaintiff worked with and around asbestos products on a daily basis, including pipe coverings and "mud."

When plaintiff returned home at the end of each day, he would go directly to the basement of the couple's home, where the washing machine was kept, and change out of his asbestos covered work clothes. Decedent would later place his "very dirty . . . [and] greasy" work clothes in the washing machine; she laundered her husband's work clothes on a daily basis.

In 1989, plaintiff was diagnosed with a non-malignant asbestos-related disease. Decedent was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, an asbestos-related pleural disease, in March 2000. She died of the disease fourteen months later at the age of eighty-two. Plaintiff was never warned of the hazards of asbestos dust until his diagnosis. Further, plaintiff received no safety instructions regarding asbestos. Exxon Mobil did not provide showers, uniforms, or changing rooms. Moreover, as early as 1916, it was generally known that to prevent contaminating employees' homes with toxic substances, certain safety precautions should be established at worksites, such as changing rooms and washing facilities.

A report, prepared by plaintiff's expert Frank M. Parker, III, states that "the petrochemical industry kept reasonably abreast of the state of knowledge concerning asbestos. It is also apparent that they did not implement standard industrial hygiene practices consistent with that state of knowledge." In interrogatories, Exxon Mobil conceded that "by 1937, [it] . . . was aware that exposure to asbestos dust or raw asbestos, if of sufficient duration and intensity, was associated with asbestosis," as detailed in the 1936 Bonsib Report by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Moreover, in 1954, Arthur Pabst, an industrial hygienist working for Mobil, wrote an article identifying asbestos as a toxic material commonly found in refineries, which required monitoring.

Plaintiff filed this suit and subsequently Exxon Mobil moved for summary judgment. The judge granted the motion. He said, in part, that "imposing an additional duty on a landowner for asbestos-related injuries that occurred off the premises would not be fair or just."

On appeal, plaintiff contends that: (1) because manufacturers owe a duty to both workers and members of the workers' households under products liability, premises owners should owe a duty to both workers and members of the workers' households under premises liability; (2) Exxon Mobil owed a duty to decedent because it was foreseeable that she would be harmed; and (3) Exxon Mobil owed a duty to decedent because it was in the best position to prevent the harm. We agree with plaintiff.

In a negligence case, plaintiff must show a duty of care, a breach of that duty, and that the breach proximately caused the harm. Ivins v. Town Tavern, 335 N.J. Super. 188, 194 (App. Div. 2000). "In reviewing the grant of summary judgment to the defendant, . . . the scope of the duty owed by the defendant [is] a legal question for the court to decide, based on the ...


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