The Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled in a case of first impression that a former shipyard electrician who developed mesothelioma can pursue state tort claims against his former employer because the suit is not preempted by federal workers’ compensation law.
The appeals court ruled Monday in favor of Ronald Barrosse, who worked for Huntington Ingalls Inc., formerly known as Avondale Industries Inc., from 1969 to 1977, and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2020.
Mr. Barrosse filed a negligence suit in Louisiana court, but the company removed the case to US District Court because it involved injuries arising from work on a US Navy ship.
The company argued that state law negligence claims were preempted by the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers̵7; Compensation Act.
The appeal centered on “twilight zones” created by US Supreme Court precedent involving cases where there is ambiguity as to whether an injured maritime worker can receive compensation through federal or state law.
The court said mesothelioma was not a compensable injury in Louisiana until 1975, and the state considers mesothelioma injuries to occur at the time of exposure, not manifestation.
Mr. Barrosse did not have a state compensable injury and his only remedy was an action for damages, the court wrote.
The court said that because mesothelioma was previously not compensable under state law, Barrosse was allowed to pursue his claim as a tort action, because federal shipping law supplements, and does not supersede, state law.