Case Illustrates Complexities of Asbestos Litigation

Mesothelioma and other civil cases may be subject to certain time limits that govern how long a person has to file a lawsuit before it is too late to do so.

For instance, under state laws called statutes of limitations, someone exposed to asbestos only has a set period of time after the diagnosis or discovery of mesothelioma to file suit. So it is important to act promptly to secure your legal rights if you are diagnosed with this rare and incurable cancer.

However, a recent court decision highlights how a different legal time limit – called a statute of repose –may add to the complexities of an asbestos exposure case.

A New Jersey appeals court earlier this month threw out a jury award of nearly $1.8 million against engineering firm Foster Wheeler LLC for allegedly exposing a workman to asbestos during repair work on a boiler it had installed at Exxon Mobil’s Bayway facility.

According to Law360 (subscription required), a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division ruled that the plaintiff’s claim fell outside the state’s statute of repose. This statute limits the time to file suit against defendants in cases involving construction.

The panel also upheld the jury’s earlier determination that Exxon was not responsible for exposing independent contractor Walter J. Barile to asbestos.

Barile worked for almost three decades as a union asbestos worker, according to court documents. He died of mesothelioma in December 2007, seven months after being diagnosed. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma.

Before he died, Barile and his wife filed suit against Foster Wheeler, Exxon, and other defendants.

According to documents in the case, Barile tore out asbestos-containing insulation during repairs to a Foster Wheeler-designed waste heat boiler at an Exxon refinery in Linden, N.J., in 1963. He worked without  protective gear, according to a co-worker’s testimony.

Although a jury determined that Foster Wheeler was liable for Barile’s mesothelioma because of the asbestos removal work he had done on the boiler at Exxon’s Bayway facility, the appeals panel found that New Jersey’s statute of repose protects the engineering company and dismissed the claims against it.