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Accountability for sailor’s asbestos exposure seems lost at sea

Two widows blame the deaths of their U.S. Navy sailor husbands on asbestos exposure while at sea. Adding to the tragedy, accountability seems lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

The widows' lawsuit was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10. The question the judges will have to answer in the case Air and Liquid Systems Corp. v. Devries is: Can manufacturers be held responsible for asbestos-related diseases "caused by products they did not make, sell or distribute?"

Here are the factors that land this case in the Bermuda Triangle:

  • Is the U.S. Navy liable? No. Despite the sailors' exposure allegedly taking place at sea as well as in the shipyard, the U.S. Navy is immune from liability.
  • Is the product manufacturer liable? Maybe. Even though the product could only be effective with asbestos components, the company denies liability because they shipped the product as bare-metal.
  • Is the third-party who applied the asbestos liable? Maybe. But the third-party who added the necessary asbestos to the product is now bankrupt.

According to the lawsuit, one of the widows claims that her husband’s exposure to asbestos happened while aboard the U.S.S. Turner in the late 1950s. At that time, asbestos was used in the maintenance of ship’s engines. 

Asbestos, as you may know, is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral used widely from the 1930s to the early 1980s in a variety of products. There are a number of traits that make the use of asbestos popular, including:

  • Heat-resistance
  • Fire-resistance
  • Chemical-resistance
  • Free from biological break-down
  • Does not wear
  • High tensile strength
  • Sound insulation
  • Highly absorbent

Airborne asbestos fibers that make their way into the lungs become lodged. After decades of irritation, the scarred lungs become prone to a specific type of cancer called mesothelioma.

While this case certainly reveals what an uphill battle the pursuit of justice can be, there is also hope that the attention asbestos receives from such a high-level case could lead to more accountability for those responsible.

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