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Louisiana Federal Judge Rules Plaintiff’s Previous Settlements for Asbestosis Claims do Not Preclude Mesothelioma Lawsuit

A Louisiana federal judge recently handed down an important ruling in an asbestos cancer lawsuit brought by the estate of a man who claimed he developed mesothelioma after previously settling with the defendant over other asbestos-related health claims. In her ruling, the Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Louisiana determined that the victim’s settlement agreement with the defendant, Avondale Shipyards, did not preclude him from bringing his most recent claim alleging that he developed mesothelioma while working at the facility.

The asbestos cancer lawsuit was brought by the victim’s family on his behalf. The victim had passed away in 2018 due to complications with mesothelioma, and his surviving family took up the lawsuit on behalf of his estate. Defense attorneys for Avondale Shipyard had previously sought to have the case remanded to a federal court back in 2018, claiming that the federal officer removal statute required the case to be heard in a federal district court because the company acted under the direction of a federal entity.

This time, Avondale Shipyard pointed to settlement agreements the victim had entered into with no less than 37 entities back in 1991 concerning his asbestosis diagnosis. Asbestos is a long term inflammation and scarring of the lungs due to exposure to asbestos fibers, usually from breathing in the material. Its symptoms may include shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and chest tightness. In both lawsuits, the plaintiff alleged that he was exposed to asbestos fibers during the course of his employment at the shipyard, and sought to hold the defendants accountable for each separate health claim.

The defendant argued that the victim’s 1991 settlement barred him from any and all future health claims related to asbestos exposure at Avondale Shipyard, even though the victim had not been diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer at the time of the agreement. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that commonly affects thin linings of tissue surrounding the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity and can take anywhere from 20 to 50 years to make a diagnosis.

Fortunately for the plaintiffs the district court judge sided on their behalf, ruling that the previous asbestosis settlements did not specifically cover actions arising for claims of a mesothelioma diagnosis. Further, the judge pointed out that the victim’s attorney in the 1991 asbestosis settlement provided representation for only those claims and that it was not a fact that the victim had intended to release the defendants from any future claims arising from a mesothelioma cancer diagnosis.

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