Jones Act Case Study: Dorothy Ann Jackson, Fiduciary of the Estate of James E. Jackson, Deceased v A-C Product Liability Trust

Mike Schuler
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April 1, 2009

Case Name: Dorothy Ann Jackson, Fiduciary of the Estate of James E. Jackson, Deceased v A-C Product Liability Trust
Date of Judgment: 31st March 2009
Court: U.S.D.C. – N.D. Ohio – W.D.
Judges: District Judge Zouhary
Citation: 2009 WL 891754 (N.D.Ohio)

Background:  The appellant, Farrell Lines (“Employer”) appealed the lower court’s decision that Mr. Jackson’s illness was caused by their negligence. Mr. Jackson, a former seaman, is now deceased and was represented by Dorothy Jackson (“Fiduciary”).

The fiduciary brought a maritime asbestos wrongful death suit under the Jones Act. Mr. Jackson worked for over 33 years on six different vessels. He worked for 114 days on the employer’s vessel, “Executor,” as a seaman. The work on this vessel allegedly exposed him to asbestos, which led to his development of mesothelioma. Farrell Lines bought the vessel from A-C Product Liability Trust. The latter company was excused by the Court from the suit, and only Farrell Lines remains liable.

The jury held the employer’s negligence caused Mr. Jackson’s mesothelioma. A verdict was returned in the fiduciary’s favor for $7.812 million. The employer appealed.

Employer’s Issue: The employer contended there was no direct evidence that Mr. Jackson was exposed to asbestos while performing his job. The employer stated the fiduciary must show substantial exposure to the asbestos to prove her claim.

Fiduciary’s Issue: The fiduciary stated that before Mr. Jackson died, he gave evidence of his asbestos exposure. She believed that was sufficient to establish the necessary exposure.

Held:

Exposure to asbestos will not be presumed. The Court held that working in the vicinity of the asbestos was not enough; they needed direct evidence of asbestos exposure.

Mr. Jackson’s testimony stated that he worked on six different vessels, and did the same duties on each of them. A causal connection needed to be shown between the mesothelioma and the employer’s vessel. There is minimal evidence of this alleged exposure.

Thus, the Court held that the fiduciary’s claim was speculative, and failed to show direct evidence that Mr. Jackson was exposed to asbestos on the vessel.

Significance:

The Courts have seen a multitude of cases in recent years involving maritime asbestos wrongful death suits brought under the Jones Act.

A rule has been established which requires asbestos exposure to be directly proven.  The injured party can testify or offer specific evidence to prove their exposure to asbestos. Evidence that is hypothetical or speculative will not establish asbestos exposure.

Steve Gordon

http://www.offshoreinjuries.com

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