Supreme Courts on State and Federal Levels Hear Asbestos Cases

The Washington state Supreme Court decided in two separate asbestos cases that one product maker cannot be held liable for the asbestos hazards of another product. A pair of men who once worked aboard Navy vessels filed a lawsuit, each against a manufacturer of a product for the asbestos exposure from another product, which they claimed could not be avoided. Joseph Simonetta claimed that he contracted lung cancer as a result of working to repair evaporators. He filed suit against Griscom Russell, now Viad. Another case involved Vernon Braaten, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma he believes came from his work as a pipefitter. He had sued Saberhagen Holdings. Both claim that while Griscom Russell’s and Saberhagen Holdings’ products did not have asbestos in them, in their work around these companies’ products, they could not avoid exposure to asbestos from other makers.

Both cases were returned with a six to three ruling. The Washington state Supreme Court agreed in both cases that since the defendants were not promoting the use of asbestos, they could not be held liable. The United States Supreme Court will consider putting back into effect a $500-million asbestos lawsuit settlement against Travelers Companies Inc. It also would prevent new lawsuits from being filed against the company that might have stemmed from its relation with the world’s largest asbestos manufacturer, Johns Manville Corp. Travelers has noted that payment for asbestos lawsuits should come from the Johns Manville trust fund established for that purpose, but the company brokered a deal where it would pay $500 million in asbestos settlements as long as the federal courts could prevent future lawsuits from being filed against them. The measure was approved by a lower court bankruptcy judge in 2008, but that ruling was overturned by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which claimed that such a ruling was outside of the bounds of the lower court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments surrounding the case in March 2009.