A federal judge has dismissed about 1,600 asbestos lawsuits filed by former merchant marines who allege that they were exposed to asbestos during the course of their employment and that they suffered irreversible harm as a result. The judge disagreed with that claim, stating that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient proof that their asbestos exposure had caused them significant injury, only showing that they had suffered physical impairment.
With this latest round of dismissals, the judge has now cut the number of such asbestos cases filed by merchant marines down from 50,000 to 2,000. It is not known whether any additional claims will be dismissed, or whether the remaining plaintiffs will be able to take their cases to trial.
In his ruling, the federal judge overseeing the asbestos litigation said that the 1,600 plaintiffs should be dismissed from the maritime docket because the plaintiffs could only prove that they had suffered scarring of the tissue around the lungs. Specifically, he said, plaintiffs who only suffer damage to the membrane that surrounds the lungs, known as the pleura, are not ‘injured’ under the definition set forth by maritime law and the Jones Act.
Specifically, the judge stated that pleural plaque (minimal scarring) and pleural thickening (widespread scarring) “do not affect the human body, do not shorten life expectancy, do not cause complications or problems, do not cause pain and cannot be felt.”
However, it is unclear whether the judge ever addressed the increased likelihood that the plaintiffs, while only showing minimal bodily damage right now, will later be diagnosed with mesothelioma or another fatal disease caused by asbestos exposure. If that happens, the plaintiffs will certainly have a valid claim, but it is unfortunate that they have to wait to hold their employers accountable for placing them at risk.
Source: Law.com, “Judge Tosses 1,600 Asbestos Cases, Rules Scarred Lungs Not an Injury,” Saranac Hale Spencer, Aug. 10, 2012
At our mesothelioma law firm, we handle lawsuits like those discussed above. To learn more this area of law, please visit our asbestos-mesothelioma connection page.