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Maritime worker’s mesothelioma suit not preempted by federal law: Court


The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in a case of first impression that a former shipyard electrician who developed mesothelioma can pursue state tort claims against his former employer because the lawsuit isn’t preempted by federal workers compensation law.

The appeals court on Monday ruled for Ronald Barrosse, who worked for Huntington Ingalls Inc., formerly known as Avondale Industries Inc., from 1969 to 1977, and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2020.

Mr. Barrosse filed a negligence lawsuit in Louisiana court, but the company removed the case to U.S. District Court because it involved injuries arising from work on a U.S. Navy ship.

The company argued state-law negligence claims were preempted by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

The appeal centered around “twilight zones” created by U.S. Supreme Court precedence that involves cases where there is ambiguity over whether an injured maritime worker could be compensated through federal or state law.

The court said mesothelioma wasn’t a compensable injury in Louisiana until 1975, and the state deems mesothelioma injuries to occur at the time of exposure, not manifestation.  

Mr. Barrosse did not have a state compensable injury and his only remedy was a tort action, the court wrote.

The court said that because mesothelioma was previously not compensable under state comp law, Mr. Barrosse was permitted to pursue his claim as a tort action, since the federal maritime comp law supplements, and doesn’t supplant, state law.