Topic: Toxic Torts
On December 27, 2012, Judge Elias in the Los Angeles
Superior Court granted summary judgment to ExxonMobil in a Longshore case
alleging asbestos-caused mesothelioma. Plaintiffs
alleged their decedent died from mesothelioma caused in part by his work as a contractor
doing repair work aboard ExxonMobil ships.
The motion was based on the argument that the repair contractor is
presumed to be an expert and therefore capable of working safely around hazards
routinely encountered aboard ships, and that in period from World War II into
the 1980’s it was routine to encounter asbestos aboard merchant ships. That argument was based on the decision in Bartholomew v. SeaRiver Maritime, Inc.
(2011) 193 Cal. App. 4th 699, 704, 713-714.
Our office assisted McKenna Long with this motion.
On January 10, 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the
judgment for plaintiff in Minton v.
ExxonMobil Corporation. Plaintiff
contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposures to asbestos during his
career at the Newport News Shipyard. In
the latter part of his career he was a ship repair staff supervisor, and
supervised repair work aboard various ships including several ExxonMobil ships;
he claimed he was exposed to asbestos from work performed by shipyard repair
personnel and by ExxonMobil seamen. The
trial court excluded all evidence of the shipyard’s knowledge of asbestos
hazards, and plaintiff argued that he might not have gotten mesothelioma if ExxonMobil
had shared its extensive knowledge. The jury
awarded $12,430,963 in compensatory damages plus $12,500,000 in punitive
damages, which the trial court after trial reduced to the prayer of
$5,000,000. The Virginia Supreme Court
held that the trial court had erred in excluding evidence of shipyard knowledge,
finding such evidence was relevant to the issue whether the shipowner had a
duty to intervene. The Supreme Court
also concluded that punitive damages are not available under the Longshore and
Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The
Court reversed and remanded. Plaintiff
has noticed a request for rehearing. I tried this case, and our office assisted with the briefs on appeal.