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Federal appeals court reinstates mesothelioma claim against GE

In a ruling that could affect claims by North Carolina servicemen and women who worked on jet engines, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit by the relatives of a serviceman who died of mesothelioma and who alleged that he inhaled asbestos fibers while serving as maintenance crew chief during the Vietnam War. The decision overturns a ruling by the trial court that the serviceman had not produced enough evidence to warrant a trial.

The plaintiff served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1973 in South Vietnam, Florida and Thailand. During that time, he served as an assistant crew chief and crew chief for maintenance teams charged with repairing F-4E Phantom Jets. The planes used J79 jet engines manufactured by General Electric Company. According to expert testimony submitted to the trial court, the J79 engines contained 147 asbestos-containing clamps and gaskets that periodically broke down. Consequently, the engines were constantly filled with asbestos fibers that were inhaled by the plaintiff. Despite the plaintiff's testimony (taken before he died) and the affidavits of experts, the trial court granted GE's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiff's evidence did not demonstrate that he was exposed to asbestos fibers from GE-manufactured parts.

The Third Circuit reversed this decision, holding that the plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to satisfy New Jersey's rule that requires a lower standard of proof of causation in mesothelioma cases than in other asbestos cases. The ruling does not mean that the plaintiff's family will prevail at trial; they must still convince a jury that the plaintiff's illness and death were caused by exposure to asbestos in components manufactured or used by GE.

Anyone who has worked in an environment where they may have been exposed to asbestos fibers may wish to seek medical advice on whether they exhibit mesothelioma symptoms or any other disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. If the diagnosis is positive, a consultation with an attorney who specializes in asbestos cases may help determine whether damages can be recovered from the companies responsible for the exposure.

Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Third Circuit Reinstates Asbestos Case Against GE," David Gialanella, July 9, 2015

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