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October 12, 2016

Courts push forward in two new maritime asbestos exposure rulings

A 3rd Circuit appellate panel recently issued a ruling to allow litigation against Matson Navigation Co. Inc., to move forward after stalling in court for nearly three decades. The case revolves around three seamen who died from effects of asbestos exposure, and was filed previously in the Northern District of Ohio’s maritime docket in the late 1980s before reaching the appellate court. 

The three men are represented by Motley Rice and the Jaques Admiralty Law Firm.

In 1991, Matson agreed to waive a personal jurisdiction defense for a number of similar asbestos exposure cases. The parties disagreed, however, about the company’s intentions for litigation brought by the three seamen.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno dismissed suits filed by the men. The 3rd Circuit appellate panel overturned that ruling in August, finally allowing the plaintiffs to proceed with the litigation.

Soon after, another significant asbestos-related ruling came from U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster related to litigation filed in the Northern District of Ohio on behalf of 343 seamen who allege they suffered asbestos exposure while working aboard ships Chiquita, formerly United Fruit Co., used to transport bananas from Central and South America to the United States.

Judge Polster had ordered both the plaintiffs and the defense to narrow down more than 300 filed suits to five cases each that would be ready for trial in November 2016. Both sides were given an Aug. 18 deadline to supply their lists, which the plaintiffs met. The defense, however, chose instead to file a motion questioning the constitutionality of the judge’s order and timeline. The Court disagreed with the defense motion, finding United Fruit to be in contempt of court and setting the daily $50,000 fine. United Fruit ultimately complied and the initial cases were resolved under confidential terms. The Judge continued the cases involving the other remaining defendants.