Mesothelioma Case Against Navy Contractor to Go to Retrial

Los Angeles—The family of a man who has died from mesothelioma will go back to trial against a United States military contractor which manufactured asbestos-containing boilers.
The California First District Court of Appeal recently reversed a judgment against Foster Wheeler, the manufacturer of marine boilers. Previously, the family of Calvin Oxford, who died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in 2005, had sued the company, alleging that they had failed to warn Oxford of the hazards of the asbestos products, which led directly to his mesothelioma diagnosis and his death.

The Court of Appeal, however, said that the San Francisco Superior Court jury which originally heard the case gave inconsistent verdicts in answer to the plaintiff’s claims. The panel did, however, reject a counter-claim by Foster Wheeler that its products were in compliance with Navy specifications, and that this compliance constituted a defense to the claim for negligence in failing to warn Oxford of the health risks.

Oxford served in the navy and worked as a boiler tender, which required to him to maintain and repair the boilers manufactured by Foster Wheeler. During the mid-20th Century, boilers, furnaces, piping and steam systems and many other items on board Navy ships were routinely outfitted with asbestos, in order to strengthen them and, especially, render them fireproof.

Asbestos is an extremely lightweight mineral material which is perfect for insulation applications because not only can it withstand high temperatures and flame, but it can also be added to other materials or woven into cloth. Unfortunately, however, it is also a carcinogen, and can release millions of microscopic fibers into the air which people can then inhale. When these fibers enter the body, they embed themselves in the soft tissues, particularly a membrane that lines the body cavities called the mesothelium.

Mesothelioma, the cancer that results from this process, is unusual in that it often does not become symptomatic until many years after the asbestos exposure took place.

Based on the recent ruling set forth by the Court of Appeal, Oxford’s widow and children must go back to the trial court and present their claims again.