Reversal of Summary Judgment for U.S. Steel on Maritime Claims

OHIO – Edward Shaffer was allegedly exposed to asbestos while working in the boiler room of multiple vessels while serving as a merchant marine employed by the Pittsburgh Steamship Division of U.S. Steel, from 1960 to 1961. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2016 and subsequently filed suit against 23 defendants, including U.S. Steel. That defendant moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s third amended complaint addressing the Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims. The motion was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff asserted three assignments of error:

  1. The trial court erred by applying state law, rather than federal maritime law, to the plaintiff’s Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims
  2. The trial erred by applying the wrong causation standard to the Jones Act claim
  3. The trial court erred by applying the wrong causation standard to the unseaworthiness claim.

The court agreed with the plaintiff and sustained all three assignments of error.

With respect to the first, the court held that federal law must be applied to maritime claims, as the Jones Act supersedes all state laws as to the liability of vessel owners. With respect to the second issue, the court held that U.S. Steel did not move for summary judgment on causation and therefore improperly granted it on that basis. The court additionally held that even if U.S. Steel had asserted a causation challenge, the wrong law was applied. The court should have applied the “however slight” standard contained in the Jones Act instead of the “substantial factor” test articulated in Lindstrom. For the third issue, the court also found that the wrong causation standard was applied to the unseaworthiness claim and that the plaintiff need not prove the Lindstrom standard, but rather that:

  1. The vessel was unseaworthy in some way
  2. The unseaworthy condition proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.

The entry of summary judgment was therefore reversed.

Read the case decision here.