Punitive Damage Claim Can Go Forward Against Shipyard

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, August 26, 2020

The plaintiffs allege that Callen L. Dempster (decedent) was exposed to asbestos while working at Avondale Shipyard from 1984 to 1996. In their Supplemental and Amending Petition for Damages, the plaintiffs asserted a claim for punitive damages, specifically stating that “Callen Dempster was exposed to asbestos during the years of 1984 through 1996. His injuries were caused by defendants’ wanton and reckless disregard for public safety in the storage, handling, and transportation of asbestos to which Mr. Dempster was exposed and which resulted in his injuries and death. All defendants are liable to petitioner for punitive damages pursuant to Article 2315.3 of the Louisiana Civil Code.” 

Defendant Avondale Shipyard, after much litigation in state court, removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and on February 18, 2020, filed a motion for partial summary judgment seeking dismissal of the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim. In their motion, which was joined by other defendants, Avondale argued that the plaintiffs “cannot show that the Avondale Interests either (1) consciously desired that decedent contract lung cancer or (2) knew that decedent’s lung cancer was substantially certain to occur.” 

The plaintiffs, in their opposition, argued the following: (1) the instant motion was already denied in state court and (2) a motion for summary judgment is inappropriate where the case turns on intent or knowledge, because those determinations are inherently a question of fact which turns on credibility. 

The court held that the Avondale Interests have not shown any substantial reasons warranting reconsideration of the state court’s ruling. The court further stated that, even if “the court were considering this motion for the first time under the summary judgment standard rather than the reconsideration standard, there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute precluding summary judgment.” 

Therefore, the motion was denied.