Court Denies Government’s Petition for Dismissal in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Mesothelioma Case

For purposes of this article, the mesothelioma victim in this case will be referred to as G.R.P.

In a recent mesothelioma case, the district court dismissed the U.S. Government’s second petition for dismissal. G.R.P., who passed away due to malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure, lived for many years downwind from Puget Sound Naval shipyard, the worksite where her husband worked. According to G.R.P.’s family, her mesothelioma and resulting death occurred due to airborne asbestos fibers that found their way to her home from the shipyard. The family also blames G.R.P.’s illness and death on the asbestos fibers that her husband brought home on his clothes. According to the family, G.R.P. suffered asbestos exposure while cleaning her husband’s asbestos-contaminated clothes. G.R.P.’s family filed a lawsuit against the United States Government. The U.S. Government recently filed its second petition to have the case dismissed, but the petition was denied.

The original lawsuit filed by G.R.P.’s family in 2022 describes how G.R.P. suffered asbestos exposure due to negligence at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where her husband worked. The original lawsuit details that G.R.P. suffered asbestos exposure due to her husband carrying the fibers home on his work clothes and the airborne asbestos fibers that blew to her home from the shipyard. In other words, G.R.P. suffered environmental and para-occupational asbestos exposure. Para-occupational exposure can also be referred to as second-hand or secondary exposure. G.R.P.’s husband worked at the shipyard from the late 1960s until 1972.

G.R.P.’s family presented evidence showing that as of 1976, the Navy knew about the multiple asbestos exposures and issued asbestos handling regulations in 1970. In 1971, guidelines were sent to all Navy shipyards. Despite the knowledge and regulations, G.R.P.’s family argues that sufficient protective measures were not implemented, leading to their loved one suffering asbestos exposure and later developing mesothelioma.

In 2023, the court denied the government’s first petition to dismiss the case. In the first petition, the government focused its argument on whether it had a duty to provide G.R.P.’s husband with PPE. In the second petition, the government tried to use the sovereign immunity defense. Sovereign immunity protects governments from being sued without their consent. In the U.S., sovereign immunity can shield the government and its subdivisions from lawsuits. However, there are exceptions and waivers to this rule. The government argued that this legal doctrine protects it from the mesothelioma lawsuit, and a discretionary function exemption protects it from being second-guessed.

The district court denied this second motion. The court stated that several issues of fact on predictability and causation prevented summary judgment. The denial of the petition to dismiss the case means that the case will proceed to trial.

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