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Summary Judgment in Maritime Asbestos Case With Issue of First Impression

July 2, 2021 – Press Release

July 2, 2021 (Philadelphia, PA) – Hawkins Parnell & Young partner Brian J. Schneider secured summary judgment on behalf of a supplier of gasket and packing products in the MDL court overseeing the nation's federal asbestos docket. This matter was one of first impression in both the MDL and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. All claims for nonpecuniary damages — including pain and suffering, loss of society/consortium, and punitive damages — were ruled unavailable in a death case under general maritime law on behalf of a deceased Navy sailor and his family. This case is the first federal decision in the country to strike all three categories of damages.

The court first determined that claims of asbestos exposure by seamen aboard U.S. Navy vessels undergoing repairs fall within the ambit of maritime law. From there, the court turned to the issue of damages available under maritime law stemming from the death of a Navy sailor caused by asbestos exposure. As a result of the legislative and judicial history surrounding the issue detailed in Brian’s brief, the MDL court agreed that the doctrine of “uniformity” announced by the U.S. Supreme Court resolved the issue. Since the Supreme Court and lower courts have previously found in other circumstances that nonpecuniary damages such as loss of consortium and punitive damages are unavailable, they were also unavailable to the Navy claimant here. Likewise, because neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever recognized a general maritime law survival remedy, the claimant could not seek pain and suffering damages.

The case is Boesenhofer v. Aecome, et al., No. 17-1072 (E.D. Pa. June 22, 2021).