Shipyard Defendant Obtains Summary Judgment Due to Prior Release

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Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

In this asbestos action, Felton Robichaux worked as an insulator and carpenter at Avondale Shipyard from 1961 to 1979, and alleges he was exposed to asbestos through his work, as well as through his contact with other employees at Avondale Shipyard. In 1991, Robichaux and thousands of other plaintiffs sued a number of defendants for asbestos-related injuries in In re Asbestos Plaintiffs v. Borden, which was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court (the “Borden case”). Ultimately, Robichaux settled his claims against many of the defendants in the Borden case. In January 2022, Robichaux was diagnosed with mesothelioma and soon after filed the instant action against Avondale and other defendants, claiming his mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos while he was employed at Avondale.

On May 25, Avondale filed this motion alleging some 58 parties with whom Robichaux settled claims in the Borden case (the “Releasees”) were released not only from the Borden case, but also from all future claims for asbestos-related illness, including mesothelioma. While Avondale does not claim Robichaux released it from liability in the Borden case, Avondale’s goal in bringing this motion is to claim virile share credits for each party Robichaux released in Borden. Simply put, Avondale is entitled to a reduction in the judgment for each tortfeasor Avondale can show Robichaux released from mesothelioma claims and against whom Avondale can prove fault for the development of Robichaux’s mesothelioma. In response, plaintiffs argue Robichaux released only his claims for asbestosis in the Borden case, and the Releases do not serve as a basis for quantification of virile shares of fault for the mesothelioma claims in this case.

Plaintiffs also argue the language of the release documents was too broad and general to release claims for mesothelioma. And, the plaintiffs argue too the Releases are impermissible summary judgment evidence because they are hearsay and unauthenticated, and Avondale’s motion is premature because Avondale has not yet proven the Releasees were at fault for Robichaux’s mesothelioma.

The court noted that summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence before the court shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The court rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that Avondale’s motion should be denied as premature. The court also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the Releases are inadmissible. Federal Rule of Evidence 901 articulates the standard for authentication of evidence in federal court. Avondale produced an affidavit from Richard Bradley Hiatt, an attorney at the law firm that is the legal successor to the firm that represented Robichaux in the Borden case, who certified the Releases are true and correct copies of the releases executed by Robichaux in the Borden case, and that the Releases were kept by the law firm in the regular course of business since the time Robichaux executed them. Lastly, the court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the Releases do not release mesothelioma claims because they were signed before Robichaux contracted mesothelioma. Plaintiffs contend Robichaux’s mesothelioma resulted from his exposure to asbestos which was the same exposure that served as the basis for Robichaux’s claims in the Borden litigation. Thus, plaintiffs’ mesothelioma claims were “future claims,” which are releasable in Louisiana.

After careful consideration of the Releases in the Borden matter, the court granted Avondale’s Motion for Summary Judgment finding that the Releases Robichaux executed in the Borden litigation released plaintiffs’ claims for mesothelioma in this litigation. If fault is proven at trial against the Borden litigation Releasees, the Releasees’ virile shares can be quantified to reduce the fault of other at-fault parties.

Read the full decision here.