Since the late 1700s, merchant marines have played an important and necessary role in the waterborne transport of goods and services for both U.S. civilians and military, operating a broad range of watercraft in the vast majority of North America’s navigable waters.
In the years following asbestos’ inclusion as a fireproofing and insulating agent in hundreds of commercial vessels starting in the early- to mid-1900s, a large number of these service members began to be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. In the 1980s, the Jaques Admiralty Law Firm of Ohio took up the merchant marines’ cause and began fighting for them, alleging that defendant manufacturers and suppliers of the asbestos-containing products at-issue were responsible for the merchant marines’ exposure and subsequent illnesses.
As thousands of these cases began building up against hundreds of defendants, the cases were finally consolidated in 1991 under Multidistrict Litigation 875 (MDL 875), otherwise known as In re Asbestos Product Liability Litigation. This MDL is considered the longest running active MDL in the federal courts and is historically the largest MDL in terms of number of cases and claims involved.
As the merchant marine cases fell under the admiralty jurisdiction of the court, they were placed under a separate maritime docket of MDL 875, otherwise known as MARDOC.
In September 2011, Motley Rice joined Jaques Law Firm as co-counsel on all MARDOC cases.
If you have questions or would like to explore your legal rights regarding asbestos injuries suffered in relation to maritime involvement, please contact attorney John Herrick by email or call 1.800.923.4237.
History of MDL 875’s MARDOC cases
Cases on behalf of merchant marines injured by asbestos exposure were filed in the Northern District of Ohio starting in the 1980s. When MDL 875 was formed on July 29, 1991, these cases were consolidated and transferred to the MDL’s home court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Not long after the maritime cases were transferred, the Honorable Judge Charles Weiner, who was presiding over MDL 875 at the time, established a separate maritime docket for all maritime asbestos cases (MARDOC cases). Defendants in these cases include:
- Manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos insulation
- Ship owners
- Shipboard asbestos products machinery and implements
- Shipbuilder and vessel designers
While a motion to dismiss was issued for all MARDOC cases in MDL 875 in 1996, thousands of new MARDOC cases continued to be filed in other districts.
By 2010, all of the cases that were dismissed from MDL 875 in 1996 were reinstated to the active docket for final disposition.
A year later, the roughly 3,500 remaining MARDOC cases were divided into seven groups of approximately 500 cases each based on common defendants and regions in order to help streamline and expedite the process:
- Group 1: Oil Company defendants
- Group 2: West Coast defendants
- Group 3: East Coast I defendants
- Group 4: East Coast II defendants
- Group 5: Gulf Coast defendants
- Group 6: Towing defendants
- Group 7: Products and Lakes defendants
A 2012 memorandum opinion issued by Judge Robreno further reduced the number of MARDOC cases, which held that maritime law would govern those cases against ship owners and that “a seaman without physical impairments resulting from asbestos exposure, including one who manifests only pleural changes, has not suffered an 'injury' under maritime law, and therefore has no cognizable claim.”
On Nov. 24, 2014, hundreds of MARDOC cases were ordered to be remanded back to the Northern District of Ohio, allowing each of these asbestos claimants the opportunity to pursue their claims, including any punitive damages claims that remain. It is anticipated that some trials within the MDL will begin sometime in late 2015.