Washington High Court Blocks Suit Over Boeing Worker’s Death

September 22, 2014

Washington’s Supreme Court says in a split decision that Boeing can’t be sued over a worker’s death from asbestos exposure.

Worker Gary Walston was exposed to asbestos throughout his long career at Boeing, but especially during a span in 1985 when crews began repairing pipe insulation in the ceiling of the shop where he worked. The crews wore respirators and “moon suits,” but the nearby workers were afforded no such protection. Instead, their supervisors told them to avoid standing directly beneath the overhead crews.

Walston developed mesothelioma and died last year. His widow sued Boeing, saying the company caused his disease.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, the high court said Washington’s workers compensation law only allows such lawsuits when a company deliberately injures an employee. The majority said Boeing did not know for sure the exposure would kill Walston, because asbestos exposure does not always cause mesothelioma.

The dissenting justices argued that the case posed legitimate questions about whether Boeing knew its workers were being injured and disregarded that knowledge.

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