Tenn. Supreme Court to Decide Alcoa Asbestos Suit

January 16, 2008

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that will decide whether Alcoa Inc. is responsible for the asbestos-related death of a former worker’s daughter.

The Pittsburgh-based company argues that it should not be held responsible for Amanda Satterfield’s cancer.

Satterfield had mesothelioma, a rare cancer directly associated with asbestos exposure. She died in 2005 at the age of 25.

She originally filed suit against the company in 2003, claiming that the asbestos dust her father brought home on his clothes had caused her cancer. Her father, Doug Satterfield, worked hauling asbestos for the company beginning in 1973.

Doug Satterfield has continued the lawsuit as the representative of his daughter’s estate. The suit argues that Amanda Satterfield “was exposed to harmful asbestos dust and fibers from the day of her birth from her father’s use of asbestos products and inadvertent introduction of dust and fibers into their home and personal environments.”

Alcoa attorney John Lucas argued on Tuesday that the company should not be responsible for the illness of a non-employee.

A ruling against Alcoa would create “an infinite universe of potential plaintiffs,” he argued.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch Jr. asked Lucas how the company’s responsibility for a family member’s asbestos exposure would differ from its responsibility for exposing a neighborhood to asbestos if an employee drove an Alcoa truck through the area.

“How is it negligent for Alcoa to let asbestos fly out of a truck and not negligent for Alcoa to allow employees to go home with asbestos dust on their clothing?” Koch asked.

Satterfield’s attorney, Greg Coleman, said Alcoa does bear the responsibility for Amanda Satterfield’s illness.

“Public policy should at least extend to the home,” Coleman said. “Alcoa may not have known if an employee would stop at the Waffle House on his way home from work but they did know that the employee would eventually end up at his home.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case by early April. A ruling against the company will allow the case to go to trial in Blount County.

A judge there initially dismissed the case, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed that decision.

Doug Satterfield cried throughout Tuesday’s hearing, which he attended with his 18-year-old daughter, Amelia.

After the hearing he said, “It seems like Alcoa is trying to change the law to protect itself. It’s unthinkable that public policy shouldn’t protect the children of workers.”

The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages.

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