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Appeals court lets former electrician pursue mesothelioma claim

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2023 | Mesothelioma/Asbestos-Related Illness

Because nearly all cases of mesothelioma start from asbestos exposure, nearly all mesothelioma victims deserve compensation. Manufacturers and businesses knew that asbestos could cause cancer decades before they stopped using it. But they kept using it anyway. Their victims deserve to hold them accountable.

Frequently, this means filing for compensation from a trust fund. Many businesses created these funds when they filed for bankruptcy. The courts wouldn’t allow them to completely avoid their responsibility. Sometimes, victims can seek repayment from a workers’ compensation policy. Pursuing compensation doesn’t always mean suing the people who exposed you. But, in some cases, it does.

This is the case for a former electrician who developed mesothelioma. He had worked in Louisiana’s shipyards through most of the 1970s. When he sued his former employer for exposing him to asbestos, the employer tried to say various laws blocked his suit. In response, the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that, no, the laws did not block the man’s suit.

Electrician can sue his former employer for negligence

Most of the time, workers’ compensation blocks lawsuits. In most states, workers’ compensation laws provide workers a way to seek help for things like:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement

However, these laws typically prevent workers from suing their employers. So, if the laws had allowed the electrician to claim workers’ compensation, he couldn’t have sued.

Additionally, because the electrician had been working in a shipyard when he suffered exposure, his former employer claimed that the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act should cover his injuries. If it did, then he might not have a case under state negligence laws.

So, these were the two questions before the appellate court:

  • Did Louisiana’s workers’ compensation laws preempt the electricians’ claim?
  • Did the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act preempt it?

As we already noted, the court of appeals said “no” to both of these questions:

  • Louisiana did not consider mesothelioma a compensable injury until 1975. This is important because the court believes the injury occurs at the time of exposure, not at the time the disease manifests. Because mesothelioma was not a compensable injury at the time of exposure, the electrician could not file for workers’ comp. Therefore, workers’ comp laws did not block his lawsuit.
  • The extent of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act was a trickier question. As the court noted, the creation of the act led to a nebulous “twilight zone” between state and federal laws. Here, the court noted that the act intends to “supplement” state laws, rather than completely replace them. As a result, the court ruled that the act would preempt state-level workers’ compensation. But it does not preempt the electrician’s state-level negligence claim. Because he didn’t file under the act, he was not bound by it.

Lawsuits aren’t the only way to pursue compensation

It’s worth noting that the electrician has not yet won his claim against his former employer. Instead, his victory in the court of appeals simply allows him to move forward with his claim. He’ll still need to present a convincing argument and evidence to win his case, unless his former employer settles ahead of court.

So, is a lawsuit the best way for you to pursue compensation for your mesothelioma case? It may be. But you may have better options. Some might move faster than a lawsuit. They might involve less confrontation. You may not even have the option to sue.

Still, whatever your best option is, it’s likely to require a great deal of evidence. And you will likely want the assistance of an experienced attorney. In fact, an attorney who understands mesothelioma cases inside and out can help you understand your options and choose the one that’s best for you.

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