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The wrongful death claim filed by the widow of a mesothelioma victim will be allowed to proceed, following a 5-2 ruling by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Our mesothelioma attorneys understand that the case, Dorthe Crisp Gibbs v. Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., had run into a snag over the state’s workers’ compensation laws.
Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Act holds that all workers injured on the job in that state are to seek remedy through the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Even injuries that occur outside the state may fall under the purview of the commission, provided the business contract was held in Virginia. The only time an employer could be civilly sued for compensation would be if that company did not purchase workers’ compensation insurance.
All of this is very straightforward. But here’s the catch: While the plaintiff’s husband in this case did work in Virginia at the time of his exposure and the suit was against a private company in that state, the man actually worked for the Navy. It had previously been determined by the courts that the Navy didn’t fall under the purview of this law.
Lower courts had been divided on this issue, but the final ruling from the state Supreme Court affirms the fact that Navy employees wouldn’t fall under the jurisdiction of state law in this regard.
Here’s what happened:
A man named Kenneth Gibbs was a U.S. Navy electronics technician. In the 1960s, the Navy commissioned a Virginia company, the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., to build two nuclear submarines. This took several years, and the vessels cost about $46 million each. Six months before the completion of these vessels, Gibbs was sent with a Navy team to conduct inspections and testing on the ships. During the course of this work, Gibbs regularly came in contact with asbestos.
In 2008, after being given a diagnosis of mesothelioma (caused solely by asbestos exposure), Gibbs filed suit against the shipbuilding company. After he died in 2009, his wife continued the case as a wrongful death action.
However, the shipyard asserted the state’s workers’ compensation act provided exclusive remedy to the claim. The shipyard contended that both Gibbs and the Shipyard were statutory co-employees of the Navy, and as such, the exclusivity provision was applicable. Initially, the lower court agreed. However, the Supreme Court overturned this ruling, contending that no party in the case proved that the Navy had accepted the provisions of the act, or was in any way subject to it.
As such, Gibbs’ widow was given the green light to move forward with her civil litigation.
Many states have provisions about how workers’ compensation may affect a civil claim, if the latter can be filed at all. Consider that workers’ compensation will only grant you recovery from an employer, not a manufacturer. Further, there are certain types of employees who are not eligible for workers’ compensation, namely, independent contractors. Plus, workers’ compensation claims are often subject to certain time constraints, and they tend not to be as lucrative for the plaintiff as civil litigation.
You should always speak with an experienced attorney before you file either one.
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Frequently Asked Questions: Mesothelioma & Asbestos
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a carcinogenic, naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Known for its heat resistance and durability, asbestos has historically been used in insulation, construction materials, automotive parts, and shipbuilding materials.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is made up of small shard-like fibers that can easily become airborne when disturbed. If inhaled or ingested, these fibers can embed within the lining of the lungs, heart, stomach, or testes where they can cause cancer to form years or decades later.
What are asbestos-related diseases?
Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
What causes mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive and incurable form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until decades after exposure.
What are the different types of mesothelioma?
Three of the most common types of mesothelioma are pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and pericardial mesothelioma.
What are common mesothelioma symptoms?
Common symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing and chest pains. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the stomach, may cause abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal pain, and nausea.
Do I qualify for compensation if I have mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a preventable form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure. If you were exposed to asbestos while serving in the U.S. military or while working in construction, mechanics, or a similar field, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact The Ferraro Law Firm for a free legal consultation.
What is the life expectancy for someone with mesothelioma?
There is no cure for mesothelioma. However, patients can receive treatments for mesothelioma that may extend their initial prognosis with proper treatment. Those diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma usually have a life expectancy that is greater than three years, though a large part of this depends on the stage the patient is diagnosed. The earlier the diagnosis, the longer the life expectancy and chance of long-term survival.
Do I qualify for compensation if I have mesothelioma?
If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should immediately seek long-term medical treatment. After that, you should contact our firm to examine your legal rights. Since 1985, The Ferraro Law Firm has represented individuals with asbestos-related diseases and pursued fair compensation on their behalf. Our firm is one of the top five law firms in the U.S. handling mesothelioma and asbestos cases.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling (888) 554-2030. Offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Virginia workers comp act no bar to Navy widow’s wrongful death claim, Nov. 7, 2012, By Roberto Ceniceros, Business Insurance
More Blog Entries:
Mesothelioma, Cancer Treatments, Expected to Double By 2020, Oct. 1, 2012, Mesothelioma Lawyer Blog