There is concern that a United Sates Supreme Court decision may make it more difficult for certain employees to file claims against its employers for asbestos related injuries. This case made it to the highest court because a 30-year worker for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad contracted mesothelioma. The worker died two years after this diagnosis as there is no known cure.
The worker's widow then brought a wrongful death and product liability suit against the manufacturer of the asbestos to which the worker was exposed. Unfortunately for her, the Supreme Court decided that a federal act superseded state personal injury laws at least as far as railroad workers are concerned.
The ruling essentially shields asbestos manufacturers from liability when it comes to railroad worker claims and limits liability exposure to that of the employer. This is because the Locomotive Inspection Act formerly known as the Boiler Inspection Act of 1911 requires that locomotive parts be in safe condition for those that operate the machinery.
The Supreme Court justices felt that such legislation was sufficient to shift liability from the asbestos manufacturers to that of the employer. The court noted that railroad employees still have recourse to sue their employees through the Federal Employees Act (FELA) when it comes to asbestos injury claims.
The concern is that asbestos manufacturers who knew or should have known of the dangers of asbestos for a number of years will not be held accountable for their behavior. However, it should be noted that the federal act in question suggests that this ruling will only be limited to railroad workers.
This particular decision does not leave the railroad workers without any options. What it will mean for clients and their attorneys is that they will have to explore all of their legal options in deciding how to proceed with these particular cases. There may be legal means to proceed against the manufacturers that remain unexplored.
Source: Mesothelioma News, "Supreme Court Decision Derails Railroad Workers' Asbestos Claims," March 2, 2012