Monthly Archives: March 2012

State Supreme Court Halves Jury Verdict in Asbestos Case

Last year, a jury found in favor of a U.S. Navy sailor’s family awarding the family almost $6 million. However, a few weeks ago the Virginia State Supreme Court cut the jury’s verdict in half to $2.83 million. It held that the jury should not have been allowed to award pain and suffering damages.

Robert Hardick was a former Navy petty officer and had been a shipfitter and machine repairperson for Navy ships. Due to working conditions on Navy ships that included breathing asbestos fibers for a couple decades, Mr. Hardick died after suffering from mesothelioma at 69 years old.

The VA Supreme Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court, where it stated that a “seaman” is a broadly used maritime term. One only needed to “contribute to the function of the vessel or to the accomplishment of its mission.” Thus, the VA Supreme Court held that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to award Hardick’s family nonpecuniary damages for the wrongful death of Mr. Hardick.

Defendant John Crane Inc. expressed approval of this decision to vacate the pain and suffering and loss of society awards.

SCOTUS Pulls Plug on Plaintiffs’ Right to Asbestos Injury Claims Against Railroads

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a legal theory that would have given asbestos injury attorneys a new industry to attack with lawsuits.

SCOTUS ruled this past Wednesday in favor of companies involved with the design and manufacture of locomotives and their parts. The estate of the late George Corson, a welder and machinist for a railroad carrier, had sued Railroad Friction Products Corp. and Viad Corp. in Philadelphia, alleging injury from exposure to asbestos in trains and train parts distributed by the companies.

The estate’s design-defect and failure-to-warn claims were preempted by the federal Locomotive Inspection Act, the court held in a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas. The decision was in line with one made by the court 85 years ago in Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line.

“(P)etitioners contend that the LIA’s preemptive scope does not extend to state common-law claims, as opposed to state legislation or regulation,” Thomas wrote.

“Napier, however, held that the LIA ‘occup(ied) the entire field of regulating locomotive equipment’ to the exclusion of state regulation. That categorical conclusion admits of no exception for state common-law duties and standards of care.”

The decision affirmed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It had been removed from a state court to Philadelphia federal court. 

Dissenting were justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion said that the plaintiffs’ claim for failure to warn was not preempted, though it agreed the defective design claim was.

The federal government and the American Association for Justice were among the groups supporting the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.

“Because the right to a legal remedy for wrongful injury is a fundamental right under the Constitution, courts may not preempt such a cause of action and leave injured persons without remedy unless Congress specifically intended that result,” the AAJ’s amicus brief said.

“The mere silence of Congress in a statute not directed at railroads rather than manufacturers falls short.”

Complaints against 50 other companies were dismissed. 

About Kevin
Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful asbestos law cases and has a stellar reputation for getting result sfor his asbestos injury cases.