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Military Widows Asbestos Liability Case Picked Up by Supreme Court

Pasadena-based Courthouse News Service (CNS) has announced that in a case presented Monday, May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court has agreed to “resolve whether military widows can hold companies liable under maritime law for products that they did not make, sell, or distribute.”

Plaintiffs in the case (two military widows) sued more than 50 companies before their husbands died of asbestos-related lung cancer. The widows alleged that, for years, their husbands were exposed to asbestos from equipment on Navy vessels—equipment that (they say) the companies provided to the military. However, according to CNS, “several of the companies named as defendants did not actually manufacture or supply any of the insulation, gaskets or packing” that contained asbestos.

Back in 2014, “a federal judge in Philadelphia sided with these companies at summary judgment,” reports CNS, “but the Third Circuit remanded the case in an unpublished order last year.”

Attorneys for the widows explained that, “liability should follow because the sailors were exposed to asbestos from replacement parts that conformed to the manufacturers’ specifications.” According to CNS, four of the companies petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse, but attorneys for the widows have emphasized to the court and the public that, “the primary purpose of [maritime law] is to protect sailors.”

“We think that, where the manufacturer knows that asbestos-containing wear parts will have to be replaced during the long life of the equipment, they should be held responsible,” the attorneys said in a statement.

Attorneys for the defendants have not commented on the case.

Before the dangers of asbestos became known, tens of millions of workers and military service members were exposed to this deadly mineral. Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that as many as 1.3 million people in the U.S. go to a workplace every day where they are exposed to significant amounts of asbestos.

It can take decades for mesothelioma to develop, so many of those who were exposed years ago (and today) won’t be diagnosed until much later in life. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age at the time of diagnosis for pleural mesothelioma is 69.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor right away. Thanks to advances in medicine, a number of diagnostic tests that can detect changes in the body much sooner are now available. Early diagnosis often leads to better treatment options and outcomes, so talk to your doctor about your risk today.



“Asbestos Safety Awareness." Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), n.d. Web. 27 June 2018.

Leonard, Barbara. "Asbestos Liability Case Picked Up by Supreme Court." Courthouse News Service (CNS), 14 May 2018. Web. 27 June 2018.

"What Are the Key Statistics About Malignant Mesothelioma?" American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 2018. Web. 27 June 2018.