Legal Liability And The Removal Of Asbestos

If you have (or suspect) asbestos in your home, the safest course of action is to hire a licensed asbestos abatement contractor for the removal job. These people are trained to handle toxic materials, and carry liability insurance as well.

If you are a home owner and choose to undertake the job yourself, you will be fully liable for any harm that may come to yourself and others as a result. This is something not covered by homeowners insurance. Hiring a qualified contract is not cheap, but compared to the costs of asbestos-related disease, such services are indeed a bargain.

Why Use a Licensed Contractor

A certified asbestos abatement contractor in most states is required to carry Pollution Legal Liability insurance in addition to General Liability Insurance and Workers’ Compensation and Employer Liability Insurance. In the State of California, the required coverage is no less than $1,000,000 per occurrence, plus an aggregate of $2,000,000 under General Liability.  Contractors are required to have verification of such insurance; if you are considering hiring such a contractor, you will want to see this verification. Such verification is usually required to be on file with the county in which they are licensed (1).

Premises Liability

Under most state laws, a property owner can be held liable if s/he knew of a dangerous condition on the property in question and did nothing to fix that condition, and held liable for any resultant injury. The law states that property owners must satisfy the "reasonable standard of protection" owed to invited guests and others with legitimate business on said property. 

In the case of trespassers, a property owner may have a duty to give reasonable warning if s/he knows that trespassers are likely to enter. However, this requirement applies only to cases in which the owner has created "artificial conditions," such as an asbestos abatement job. In this case, it is necessary to put up clear, proper warning signs in order to fulfill this duty (2).

In the meantime, if you have asbestos on your property, it is important monitor its condition and (preferably) have it removed professionally.

Landlords and Tenants

If you are a tenant living at a rental property, the law generally considers you the "owner" as far as liability is concerned. This is  because the law presumes that a landlord (or "lessor") has little control over the property once it is leased. However, there are exceptions: if an injury occurs on the property that is the result of conditions that were known prior to the tenant taking possession of the property, and/or such conditions were concealed, a landlord can be held liable. In addition, a landlord is obliged to make repairs in a proper and "non-negligent" manner for the benefit of the tenant.

If asbestos is discovered on the premises of a rental unit, the landlord is responsible for all costs associated with its removal. This precedent was set in a New York case, Rapid-American v. Seventh Avenue Associates LP.  The tenant, Rapid-American Corporation, leased offices owned by Seventh Avenue  Associates on a long-term basis. When asbestos was discovered in the offices, Rapid-American paid over $3 million to have it removed. The court decided that the building’s owners were liable for the expense, since as owners, they would be the ultimate beneficiaries of the abatement, because the value of the property increased as a result (3).

Notes

  • Butte County, California. "Asbestos Removal Contract Insurance Requirements"
  • FindLaw. "Premesis Liability – Overview."
  • Casareale, Anthony. "Landlord Liability for Asbestos Removal."

'Legal Liability And The Removal Of Asbestos' Sources: