Federal appeals court sends asbestos case back to state level

By Amanda Thomas | Mar 24, 2018

NEW ORLEANS – A lawsuit against a private shipyard company accused of exposing a former employee’s daughter to asbestos which allegedly caused her to die of cancer has been sent back to state court. 

On March 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to remand the case back to state court. 

In 2016, Mary Jane Wilde died of complications related to mesothelioma. The suit claims Wilde suffered second-hand exposure to asbestos when she did her father’s laundry. Her father, Percy Legendre Sr., worked at Avondale Shipyard from 1943 to 1945. 

The suit alleges that asbestos fibers clung to her father’s body and clothing when he returned home from work each day, exposing her to the fibers at home. 

By Bobak Ha'Eri (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wild’s surviving relatives filed suit in state court against Huntington Ingalls Inc., formerly known as Avondale Shipyards, claiming the company was negligent in mishandling asbestos. The suit alleges that Avondale failed to tell employees about the risks of asbestos exposure and failed to implement property safety procedures for handling asbestos. The plaintiff’s expert, a former ship inspector at Avondale, stated that “government inspectors neither monitored nor enforced safety regulations.” The former inspector went on to say that responsibility fell on the Avondale’s safety department.

The case was removed to district court after Avondale invoked the federal officer removal statute. The purpose of the statute is to allow certain federal defendants to remove a case from state court to a potentially less-biased federal court. The district court remanded, saying Avondale failed to show a causal connection between the federal officer’s direction and the conduct alleged by the plaintiffs. 

The appeals court agreed, noting Avondale’s argument that the government required the company to use asbestos insulation and oversaw construction to ensure it built tugs to the government’s specifications.

“But nothing about this arrangement suggests that Avondale was not ‘free to adopt the safety measures the plaintiffs now allege would have prevented their injuries,’” the opinion reads. 

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