The widow of a man who worked with asbestos insulation had the right to pursue her lawsuit against the owner of the plant in which her husband worked, even though her husband was employed by an independent contractor, a Pennsylvania court ruled.

In 1950 and 1951, the Koppers Co. had a plant in Kobuta, Pa., where it manufactured materials used to produce synthetic rubber.  Koppers hired an independent contractor, Phillip Carey, to work on an expansion project that involved removing and replacing insulation on tanks and pipes. Both the old and new insulation contained asbestos. Fred Chenot, an employee of Phillip Carey, was exposed to asbestos particles while working at the Koppers plant and again in 1954 and 1955 when he worked at a powerplant.

Chenot was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1998. He sued many defendants, including Beazer East Inc., the successor to Koppers. Chenot charged that Beazer breached its duty to maintain the Koppers plant in a reasonably safe condition, and to protect him from the dangers of inhaling asbestos fibers. Chenot died in 2000 and his widow continued the suit.

Beazer asked the Pennsylvania trial court to grant judgment for it before trial, arguing, among other things, that Phillip Carey was a highly qualified independent contractor whose work was not controlled by Koppers/Beazer. The court ruled for Beazer and Chenot appealed to  Pennsylvania Superior Court. She argued that Koppers did not surrender possession or control of the premises to Phillip Carey, and that it supervised the work.

The court ruled that Chenot was entitled to a trial of her claims against Beazer. It said the record showed Koppers specified the use of asbestos and supplied materials. According to the court, a trial was needed to determine whether Koppers’ knowledge of the presence and hazards of asbestos was superior to that of Phillip Carey. Chenot v. A.P. Green Services Inc., 895 A.2d 55 (Pa. Super. 2006).