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Comp benefits only remedy for asbestos worker's survivors

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Workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for the family of a California man who died after he was exposed to asbestos from scrap materials that he took home from his employer, a California appellate court has ruled.

Lario Melendrez worked at Pasadena, California-based Ameron International Corp. from 1961 to 1985, and was exposed to asbestos while manufacturing pipe products for the company, court records show. He died in 2011 of asbestos-related mesothelioma.

Mr. Melendrez's wife and children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ameron. In court filings, they argued that Mr. Melendrez was exposed to asbestos at work and through waste or scrap pipe that Ameron permitted him to take home for personal projects, such as making flower pots and part of a patio. Ameron argued that workers comp was the exclusive remedy for Mr. Melendrez's family.

The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in favor of Ameron in 2014, finding that Mr. Melendrez's death was work-related since he only received pipe through his employment at Ameron, according to records.

Mr. Melendrez's family appealed, arguing in filings that workers comp should not cover Mr. Melendrez's asbestos exposure from working with Ameron pipe in his own time.

However, a three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the lower court ruling on Thursday, finding that Mr. Melendrez's employment at Ameron was the significant factor in his asbestos exposure.

“It is undisputed that Melendrez's exposure to asbestos in his employment with Ameron substantially contributed to his mesothelioma,” the ruling reads. “Therefore, under the contributing cause standard applicable in workers' compensation law, his mesothelioma is covered by workers' compensation, and his separate exposure at home does not create a separate injury outside workers' compensation coverage.”

The court found that any injuries that Mr. Melendrez suffered from using Ameron pipe at home were “collateral to or derivative of” his work-related asbestos exposure, according to the ruling.

“The most that can be said is that his home exposure likely contributed to the disease along with his workplace exposure,” the ruling reads. “But under workers' compensation principles, the contribution of his home exposure does not create a divisible, separate injury. The injury — mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure — is entirely covered by workers' compensation.”

The appellate court also upheld an award of $80,719 in fees to be paid by Mr. Melendrez's family to Ameron for expert witness testimony in the lower court trial.