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Judge dismisses lawsuit accusing San Diego officials of exposing city workers to asbestos

Early last year, just weeks before a jury decided whether the city of San Diego mishandled a high-profile real estate transaction, a Superior Court judge threw out the lawsuit’s latest claims on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to move forward. Before.

Another judge today threw out of court another lawsuit challenging the city’s response to possible asbestos exposures inside another leased downtown office tower, just before before the case goes to trial.

Judge Kenneth J. Medel on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by dozens of San Diego city employees who said they were exposed to asbestos during a renovation of their workspaces at 1010 Second Ave., a skyscraper known as the Executive Complex.

The judge said the plaintiffs failed to show that city officials wrongly asked them to work inside the building despite knowing the carcinogen was being disturbed.

If they want to file suit against their employer, they are free to use the state’s workers’ compensation system to obtain benefits or damages related to any injuries, the judge ruled.

“The policy to use the workers’ compensation system is quite strong,” Medel said in upholding an interim ruling issued Monday evening. “There would need to be evidence to demonstrate that this should not be used here, and I don’t think the requirements that should be met are here.”

The ruling ends a five-year-old lawsuit, long before officials in former Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration moved hundreds of city workers into the asbestos-contaminated office tower located at 101 Ash St.

Forty San Diego city employees who were assigned workspaces inside the Executive Complex during a long-planned renovation that began in 2017 sued the city after the supervisory district County Air Pollution Department issued a notice of violation for asbestos in the 25-story building.

They were among 500 or more people working at their desks inside the office tower as it underwent a major renovation before city officials ordered the building evacuated immediately following the Jan. 25, 2018, breach .

Evidence presented in the case showed emails and photographs sent by a number of workers raising questions about whether it was safe to work inside the building during renovations.

But lawyers defending the city said no evidence has been presented showing city officials knew employees were exposed to asbestos. Instead, attorney James Parker told Medel on Tuesday, city leaders moved workers as soon as the asbestos was discovered.

“Has the asbestos been removed?” Yes. Does this mean anyone is exposed to this? No,” Parker told the judge. “They never reported excess asbestos in the air, period. They never did. The building owners never said anything to the city.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney, argued that the case should be presented to a jury, in part because many people had told their supervisors that they feared be exposed to asbestos a few weeks after the start of renovations. in the summer of 2017.

“The city knew that asbestos was being removed from the building,” he argued Tuesday. “The city intentionally did not disclose this information to employees. That should be enough” to proceed with the trial, he said.

City workers told their bosses months before the breach that they feared exposure to asbestos during construction.

“This is the view from my cabin,” one city employee emailed in September. “I can hear the crews tearing out the windows and they are all wearing respirators/protective masks because of the asbestos and other harmful chemicals released during the demolition.”

The employee said the security measures did not appear to be working.

“This lack of sealing could allow all these harmful materials to escape into our offices,” he wrote. “Can we please (resolve) this situation as soon as possible? »

Other city workers described symptoms they and their co-workers began experiencing during the renovation, including difficulty breathing, bronchial problems, shortness of breath and a burning throat.

“The effects also make office staff tired because of the stress it causes on their bodies and makes it difficult to sleep at night,” another city employee wrote in an email.

Parker argued that no evidence was submitted to the court showing that San Diego employees were exposed to asbestos.

He said if they get sick, they are encouraged to file a workers’ compensation claim.

“No one has provided any evidence that this happened before (January 25, 2018),” the defense attorney said.

Once the construction site suffered an asbestos violation, the city evacuated all workers assigned to the property.

But Aguirre argued that a number of those employees were later transferred to 101 Ash St., the former Sempra Energy headquarters.

That building is still the subject of a civil suit filed by plaintiffs who claim they were wrongly exposed to asbestos there. The city’s deal to buy the tower has also been the subject of civil and criminal investigations.

The civil case challenging the Ash Street acquisition was dismissed just before the scheduled trial date. The criminal case ended with a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor charge after the city bought out the original lease. The building still cannot be safely occupied.

But Medel said the executive complex plaintiffs failed to show that the workers’ compensation system should be circumvented in favor of a jury trial in Superior Court.

“I’m going to stick with that proposal and wish everyone the best of luck,” he said.

California Daily Newspapers

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