Articles Posted in Mesothelioma/Asbestos

adult-bed-care-1498927-683x1024In personal injury cases, the plaintiff can only successfully prove the defendant’s negligence if a legal duty of care exists. Where there is no duty of care as a matter of law, a trial court can dismiss the lawsuit by summary judgment. So, when a defendant files a petition for summary judgment claiming that no duty exists, he is saying that even if all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff are true, there still is no duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. 

For several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Huey Chustz worked as an electrician’s helper at the Alma Plantation, a sugar mill in Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Chustz would routinely become covered in asbestos dust while working at the mill. He would return home in the evenings where his wife, Elizabeth Sutherland, would launder his clothing, a process which sent the dust into the air. In 2012, Sutherland was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. 

Based on her diagnosis, Sutherland filed a claim for damages against Alma Plantation. She died in 2013, after which her children were substituted as Plaintiffs. Alma filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it did not owe Sutherland a duty because her injuries were not foreseeable. The trial court granted Alma’s motion for summary judgment, which the Plaintiffs appealed the Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

pollution-1-1235575-1024x851A common tactic of defendants is to attempt to remove a case from state court to Federal Court if there is the slightest indication that such removal might be proper.  Depending on the case, however, it may be more advantageous to a plaintiff to keep the case in state court.  Without even concerning the merits of the case, a battle ensues costing time and money.  In any case, where the Federal Government is even remotely involved, removal will likely be an issue.   How can a plaintiff successfully keep their lawsuit in state court when the Federal Government is involved?  Recent Louisiana asbestos litigation provides at least one way.   

Silas B. Bishop, Joseph L. Dennis, and Lawrence R. Craig worked for many years on different ships as merchant mariners. At least one of the ships that the Plaintiffs worked on was owned by the United States Navy.  United States Naval Ships are operated by civilian contractors who hire merchant mariners such as the Plaintiffs.  The Plaintiffs alleged that they were each exposed to asbestos while on board the various ships and suffered serious injuries and/or death as a result.   At the time of the lawsuit, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Dennis were deceased and their estates were represented by William E. Bartel, who is named as the Plaintiff-Appellee in the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Louisiana State Court under the Jones Act and general maritime law.  Plaintiffs sued multiple parties, including “Federal Officer Defendants” who were companies operating the Navy Vessels where Plaintiffs worked.  The Plaintiffs claimed that the injuries they suffered were due to their employers’ failure to warn them about the dangers of asbestos; failure to provide training about using products that contained asbestos; and the failure of their employers to adopt procedures to safely install and remove asbestos.  The Defendants moved to remove the case to Federal Court based on the Federal Officer Removal Statute.   

Pursuant to Federal Officer Removal Statute at  28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1), “a lawsuit against or directed to … any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States or of any agency thereof, in an official or individual capacity, for or relating to any act under color of such office” may be removed to federal court.  Defendants must show that they are “persons” as defined in the statute; that they acted under the direction of a person working for the federal government; and that there is a relationship between the defendant’s actions and what the plaintiff claims. See Winters v. Diamond Shamrock Chem. Co., 149 F.3d 387, 398-400 (5th Cir. 1998). The issue, in this case, was whether there was a causal nexus, or connection, between the Plaintiff’s claims and the Defendant’s actions.   

asbestos-1483119-1024x768It  seems that asbestos can be toxic not only to people, but also to companies as well. Anco sold, distributed, repaired, and installed insulation materials containing toxic asbestos that can cause mesothelioma and cancer from 1972 until the early 1980’s. The company based in Louisiana conducted business in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas during that time. As a result, it has faced upwards of 2700 lawsuits across the three states.

In 1987 Anco took out a general liability insurance policy with the National Union. This policy failed to include an exclusion of asbestos coverage. Beginning in April 2009 Anco forwarded all pending asbestos related lawsuits to National Union. When National Union failed to pay claims made by Anco, Anco launched suit against the insurer claiming that National Union should be held liable for the defense costs incurred by Anco. However, the court granted summary judgment to many of the claims made by Anco. This meant the trial court found for National Union and dismissed many of Anco’s allegations.

Anco appealed the partial summary judgment found by the trial court. In particular, Anco attempted to appeal the dismissal of the duty of National Union to pay legal costs. Anco cited three main reasons for their appeal. “(1)a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to the date that Anco first tendered claims under the Policy; (2) even if Anco’s tender of the claims was untimely, the district court erred in not excusing Anco’s tardiness; and, (3) the court erred in concluding that Anco’s failure to tender claims timely under the terms of the Policy relieved National Union of its defense obligations because National Union did not claim that it was prejudiced by Anco’s late tender.”

asbestos-1522143-1-1024x768Insurance agreements often include a provision stating that the insurance company will defend their client or absorb the cost of defending if the client is sued. Eagle Incorporated – a New Orleans based provider of drywall, insulation, plaster, and other building materials – was previously insured by OneBeacon Insurance Company (OneBeacon) and United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company (USFG). Both of the insurance companies issued policies covering legal defense costs. That insurance paid off for Eagle when an employee sued for injury sustained from prolonged exposure to asbestos over his twenty-one years of employment.

When the injury alleged arrises over the course of many years and several insurance companies had polices with the defendant over that time, the insurance companies will split the cost to defend. In this case, USFG was the provider for three of the twenty-one year injury period so they would typically pay for that proportion of defense costs. When the employee brought the lawsuit, OneBeacon was the only listed insurance company set to defend Eagle. OneBeacon then asked the court to join USFG so they could split the cost to defend. However, USFG and Eagle had been parties of a prior lawsuit wherein they reached a settlement agreement stating that USFG would pay Eagle an undisclosed amount and in exchange their insurance policy would be altered to free them of the obligation to pay for past, present, or future defense costs. USFG brought this agreement to the court’s attention as a reason why they should not be liable for the present case.

OneBeacon did not want to shoulder the entire cost of defending so it asked the court for a summary judgment voiding the effects of the settlement agreement and ordering USFG to participate. USFG then asked for their own summary judgment validating the settlement agreement and freeing them from defense costs. The trial court sided with OneBeacon, finding that Louisiana disfavors insurance contract alteration when it will prejudice an injured third party and that allowing the settlement agreement alteration to stand would surely affect the other parties.  An appeal of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal followed.

gdansk-shipyard-6-1503135-1-1024x679Sometimes a party feels that he, she, or it will fare better in a federal court rather than in the state court. At least for defendants, there is a process, known as removal.  This can be accomplished for several reasons, one of them being that the person or entity being sued is the federal government, an officer of the government, or someone acting under the orders of such an officer. This is governed by 28 U.S.C. 1442   However it can be returned to the state court by the plaintiff by asking the federal court to remand it, should the case not meet the standards to be heard in the federal court.  In response, the defendant party might appeal and ask that the remand  be stayed, or essentially halted.  They must, however, meet certain conditions, including that the appellate court find that the party has a likelihood of succeeding in its objective. Planned Parenthood of Greater Tex. Surgical Health Servs. v. Abbott, 734 F.3d 406, 410

The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs Louisiana) recently ruled, reshowing the standard for keeping a lawsuit in the federal court, or taking it back to the state court. In 2013, Mary Wilde was diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma.  She believed this was due to indirect exposure to asbestos through her father who had worked at a shipyard in the 1940s. As such she brought lawsuit against the current owner of that shipyard.  There was evidence that during the  time that her father had been employed for the shipyard, that yard had been used for the construction of ships for the federal government.  Upon this knowledge, the company, Huntington, filed to remove the case to the federal district court, on the basis that the shipyard in question had acted under the order of a federal agent.  Ms. Wilde filed a motion to remand and the district court agreed.  In response, Huntington appealed to stay, or stop for a time, the remand order.

The case went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in order to determine whether this lawsuit could have indeed been properly removed to federal court.  In order to allow this, Huntington would have to prove that it or its predecessors had acted in the past upon federal orders and that these actions were what caused a plaintiff injury. The Fifth Circuit found that  the shipyard had constructed ships for the federal government and so could be said to have acted under order from a federal agent.  However, the company would have to prove the causation.  Under Winters v. Diamond Shamrock Chemical Company, causation exists when toxic materials are used where the federal government both directs construction, including the use of materials that turn out to be toxic and provides these materials to be used in building.  Winters v. Diamond Shamrock Chemical Co., 149 F. 3d 387 – Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit 1998.

pipes-1197632-1024x768Throughout the last century asbestos was used in many products as an insulator from heat.  Countless workers in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and beyond were exposed to asbestos fibers as part of their daily work.  Those fibers can lie dormant for decades prior to forming mesothelioma cancer that then can metastasis throughout the body.  Once mesothelioma is discovered typically a lawsuit follows in which every possible workplace in which the person was exposed is included as a defendant.  However not all defendants will remain in the lawsuit until trial.  Some will get out by filing motions in which they argue the facts do not support their inclusion in the proceedings.  The following mesothelioma lawsuit out of Shreveport shows what happens when the facts of a case do not support the Plaintiff’s allegations as to certain parties fault.

An employee of Parish Caddo sued his employer after being diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2013 due to asbestos exposure. William H. Jordan alleged that his employer, R. F. Zimmerman & Company, Inc., was negligent or strictly liable for withholding knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure, failing to provide a safe work environment, and failing to protect him from the unreasonably dangerous conditions created by the asbestos on its premises and within its care, custody, or control.

Jordan also joined Progressive Care Center (“PCC”), A/K/A Virginia Hall Nursing Home, among others, as one of the defendants on whose premises he did jobs for. Jordan subsequently died a mere month after he filed his lawsuit. His immediate family was substituted as plaintiffs and asserted survival and wrongful death actions against the defendants. Prior to his premature death, Jordan alleged in a deposition that he worked part-time for Zimmerman during the 1950s and early 1960s, helping his friend James Yates with asbestos installation jobs. The work at the then Virginia Hall Nursing Home involved covering water lines during the construction of the building. The pipes were wrapped with a one-piece asbestos covering that was slit down the middle so it could be fitted around the pipes. Jordan further stated that the materials were already there when he began the job and that he did not see any Virginia Hall employees or take directions from anyone while installing the pipes.

Mesothelioma has been called “the working man’s disease” as it tends to effect a high percentage of blue collar workers who were exposed to asbestos in various construction trades decades ago. A diagnosis of mesothelioma can be devastating and often leads to many legal questions that the best mesothelioma lawyers in Louisiana can quickly answer. Those questions largely revolve around finding out who the responsible parties are who might owe compensation to the claimant and ultimately what financial award could be paid in mesothelioma cases.  The following asbestos case out of Jefferson Parish Louisiana provides some insight into the what a mesothelioma claimant and his family might receive if the case goes to trial.

William Oddo jr. was a handyman of sorts for over 30 years working with automobiles ships, and appliances. He raised a family on the Westbank of Jefferson Parish and lived to be 81, until he passed away from mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral which used to be common in building materials and automobile brake pads due to its properties of heat resistance. Over the course of his lifetime Mr. Oddo worked and lived with and around asbestos which is said to have given rise to his death.

On June 3, 2011, just one month before his death, Mr. Oddo filed a lawsuit against multiple defendants who allegedly contributed to his contraction of mesothelioma due to his exposure to asbestos. After his passing Mr. Oddo’s wife and two sons, hereafter referred to as the “Oddo family,” converted his case to a survival/ wrongful death action focused on two defendants from the defendant pool; Ford and Sud- Chemie Inc., formally known as and hereafter referred to as “Southern Talc.” The Otto family argued that Ford significantly contributed to Mr. Otto’s contact with asbestos by producing asbestos brake pads that Mr. Otto regularly serviced when he worked for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, the Otto family contended that Southern Talc was also responsible for Mr. Oddo’s death due to mesothelioma because Southern Talc manufactured fill that was used for Mr. Oddo’s driveway that allegedly contained asbestos.

A few months after being in a car wreck, the unthinkable happens, and as a result of the accident, your loved one passes away. As you are mourning the loss, you also have to start thinking about your legal options that stem from the crash and the possible avenues you have as a “survivor” of your loved one in order to receive some damages from the liable person. While this seems somewhat callous to talk about, especially in light of the pain you are already in from losing someone close to you, it is necessary to begin thinking about this somewhat quickly if you are going to actually be able to bring a survival action.

First, though, what exactly is a survival action? In simple terms, a survival action is an action for damages (an award of money) for injuries incurred by the deceased right before dying. You can think of a survival action as a lawsuit for injuries incurred that the actual deceased would have been able to bring had he or she not passed away. Since the decedent is not able to bring the suit himself or herself, the decedent’s estate has to bring the suit. This is typically a child or other close relative. (States will specify exactly which family members are allowed to bring a survival action in that state.)

Along with deeming who can bring a survival action, states also specify during what timeframe individuals are allowed to bring such a lawsuit. This is not because the state or the courts do not want individuals to be able to recover, but rather because a timeframe has to be set so that the liable individual does not have an indefinite period of time during which to worry about the possibility of a lawsuit.

It is vital to know proper court procedures at the outset of litigation or else an otherwise valid claim might be thrown out of court without ever being heard. One prime example is the need to send initial court documents to a defendant within a set deadline (sending such documents, such as a citation or summons, is known as service of process). Case in point, the Lafayette Parish Court of Appeal, in Boka v. Oller, recently upheld the dismissal of a claim without even considering the merits because service of process was delivered too late. Therefore, it is important to know the rules before bringing a lawsuit or a good claim might be lost due to a mere technicality, such as delivering papers too late. For a non-lawyer, an attorney can be instrumental in making sure proper procedures are followed so that the party has a chance to present their case in court.

In Lafayette Parish, Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1201 requires that service of the citation must be requested within a deadline of ninety days from commencement of the action. Article 1201 also notes that service of process on defendants is “essential” and “without them all proceedings are absolutely null.” The deadline for service is to ensure that defendants are aware of an action and have enough to prepare. Therefore, as a delay in service is deemed unfair to the defendant, a court may dismiss a claim if service of process is sent too late.

There are some limited exceptions to the rule, but, due to the risks involved in these exceptions, generally a party should attempt to serve process on time. For example, one exception permits late service if there is good cause for the delay. However, as the court is unlikely to accept run-of-the-mill excuses for delays, proving a good cause for failure to serve process on time can be difficult. As noted below, the court in Lafayette Parish found that there was no good cause for late service as the plaintiff knew the defendant’s address.

The term wrongful death refers to cases in which the decedent’s death was the fault of another. The other “person” could be one individual, such as someone driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; it could also be a group of people or a business, such as the decedent’s employers or the manufacturers of a product whose defect or malfunctioning resulted in the user’s death. Wrongful death lawsuits may be initiated by family members of the decedent in order to obtain monetary benefits, such as for wages the decedent would have earned if he were still alive. Before filing a lawsuit, it is important to establish whether the person bringing the case has standing to do so. Standing indicates that the moving party has a sufficient connection to or is substantially affected by the harm being alleged, in this case the wrongful death of the victim.

In order to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must have standing as a close relative of the deceased. The first family members who would be favored to have standing would be the decedent’s spouse and children. Louisiana Civil Code states that the surviving mother or father of the deceased may only have standing if there is no spouse or child surviving the decedent. If the deceased had no surviving parents, spouse or child, then his or her brothers or sisters would have standing to bring a lawsuit. Finally, if the decedent had no surviving siblings, spouse, parents or children, then his or her grandparents would have standing to file a wrongful death claim. Note that a mother or father who abandoned the decedent while he or she was still a minor would not have standing.

Though children are the first to have standing in a wrongful death case, standing may be challenged when the parentage is called into question. A Louisiana court stated that “a filiation action inherently accompanies an illegitimate child’s wrongful death and survival action.” Thus, children born out of wedlock, that is, to parents who were not married at the time of birth, must be able to prove paternity in order to have standing. According to Louisiana law, a husband will be presumed to be the parent of a child when the child is born within 300 days of the termination of a marriage (300 being considered the maximum possible time of gestation). Outside of this exception, proceedings must be conducted to establish standing.