San Diego Facing Class Action Suit Over Asbestos Exposure

Twenty-one employees of the City of San Diego, including several employees of the San Diego Fire Department, having filed a class action lawsuit claiming the city exposed them to asbestos and then misrepresented the danger.

The lawsuit filed last week in San Diego County Superior Court claims the city was aware of the presence of asbestos in a 19-story building referred to as the Executive Complex. It comes on the heels of other allegations of asbestos at the city’s fire academy.

From the complaint:

  • Defendant City of San Diego (“City”) intentionally exposed and then fraudulently concealed the extent of exposure to asbestos and other toxic materials to a class of an estimated 550 City employees at … [the] “Executive Complex”.
  • A high-ranking City official admitted the City was aware of the employees’ complaints and weighed the value of moving its employees out of the building against the cost of breaking the building lease.
  • As described in this Complaint, the City decided its employees’ health and safety was not worth the cost of breaking the lease for the Executive Complex.
  • As a result of this deadly exposure, City employees have developed a serious, genuine and reasonable fear of toxin-related cancer and associated respiratory conditions.
  • The City knew its employees were being exposed to asbestos but failed to resolve the problem.
  • Instead, it was not until the County of San Diego’s Air Pollution Control District reported its finding that there was measurable asbestos within the building that presented a threat to the health of the building’s occupants and visitors, did the City release its employees from the building.
  • The City intentionally did not tell its employees their exposure to asbestos and other toxic materials presented a threat to their health.
  • The City knew its employees had been complaining about the air quality and presence of asbestos for seven months (July 2017 to January 2018) and knew it did not remove its employees from the exposure to these toxins.
  • The City knowingly concealed its actions when the City hired a well-casted group of professionals to misinform and mislead City employees in believing the employees’ exposure to asbestos and other toxins did not present any health risks.

Despite the toxic nature of the exposure, the complaint does not make the typical toxic tort allegations of strict liability, negligence, gross negligence, and nuisance. Rather the complaint contains two counts: intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraudulent concealment of injury in violation of California Labor Code § 3602(b)(2).

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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