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Plaintiff’s Action for Mesothelioma Barred by Res Judicata Due to Language in Prior Release

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

In this asbestos action, decedent Felton Robichaux alleged occupational exposure to asbestos at the Avondale Shipyards from 1961 until 1979. Robichaux filed the first complaint in Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans in October 1999. Robichaux settled his claims with multiple defendants, including General Electric, IMO, and Viacom (Cross Defendants).

Thereafter, Robichaux developed mesothelioma and filed a second complaint in January 2022. The plaintiff directly sued several defendants, including General Electric, Viacom, and Avondale Shipyards. Avondale asserted cross-claims against General Electric and Viacom, as well as third-party claims against IMO. Robichaux’s heirs (Plaintiffs) filed an amended complaint following Robichaux’s passing.

The Cross Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the asserted claims were barred by res judicata. Ultimately, the court agreed with the Cross Defendants. Under Louisiana law, “[r]es judicata applies when there is (1) a valid judgment; (2) that is final; (3) the identity of the parties is the same; (4) the cause of action in the instant suit arises out of the same transaction or occurrence that was the subject of the previous suit; and (5) the cause of action asserted in the instant suit existed at the time of the final judgment in the previous suit.” Essentially, the court sets forth that the issue is “whether Plaintiffs could bring the same claims against Cross Defendants.”

The court explained that Robichaux entered into “valid and final” settlements with the Cross Defendants. In addition, both lawsuits concern Robichaux’s occupational exposure to asbestos at the Avondale Shipyards. The court determined that Robichaux’s potential claim of mesothelioma existed at the time of settling the first lawsuit. Indeed, the court pointed to Savoie v. Pennsylvania General Insurance Company for the proposition that “for the purposes of res judicata, plaintiff’s mesothelioma claim existed years before he was actually diagnosed because the release included language that by signing the agreement, the plaintiffs would be releasing all claims which include future death claims.”

The court reasoned that the Cross Defendants’ releases from the first lawsuit contained similar language as Savoie. As such, Plaintiffs would be barred from bringing the claims against the Cross Defendants. Thus, the court granted the Cross Defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.