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Another Asbestos Laundry Death: Children Continue Wrongful Death Asbestos Lawsuit

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New Orleans, LAAn asbestos mesothelioma lawsuit currently winding its way through a Louisiana federal court is minus one claim after a federal judge granted partial summary judgment to the defendant(s) and tossed a claim made by the plaintiffs for mental anguish. A host of remaining claims, however, are still at play.

The asbestos lawsuit is founded upon a rare, but not unprecedented series of circumstances that involves a family member of an asbestos worker coming into contact with lethal asbestos fibers while doing the laundry.

According to court documents, Alton Gros toiled as a welder at the Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana from 1943 until 1973. His daughter, Sally Gros Vedros, would sort through her father’s work clothes and undertake his laundry chores. It is alleged she suffered secondhand exposure to asbestos in this fashion, and was subsequently diagnosed with asbestos cancer.

Gros Vedros succumbed to Mesothelioma in June 2011 - but not before she launched asbestos claims against Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Inc., now Huntington Ingalls Inc. Following her death four years ago, Gros Vedros’s children assumed responsibility for their mother’s lawsuit on behalf of Gros Vedros and her estate. Among the asbestos claims made in the asbestos lawsuit were Lejeune damage claims for mental anguish experienced by having witnessed Gros Vedros’s decline in health subsequent to her diagnosis for asbestos mesothelioma. Plaintiffs Gerald Vedros, Lori Vedros Kravet and Valerie Vedros White sought Lejeune damages for the “mental pain and anguish which endured from watching the suffering and death of their mother,” according to court documents.

The provision for Lejeune damages evolved from Lejeune v. Rayne Branch Hospital, a landmark decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1990 and codified into law by the Louisiana state legislature following that ruling.

However, US District Judge Carl J. Barbier ruled that to qualify for Lejeune damages, the plaintiffs would have had to witness the actual incurrence of Gros Vedros’s injury - in other words, the washing of her father’s clothes - and not the mental anguish incurred over witnessing the slow and gradual demise of Gros Vedros following her diagnosis of asbestos mesothelioma.

As such, according to the judge, the plaintiffs’ claims don’t qualify under Lejeune. “Therefore, under the facts of this case, the court concludes that plaintiffs lack a valid claim for bystander damages under Lejeune and [the] Louisiana Civil Code.”

With the Lejeune claim having failed, a number of other claims remain at play, including wrongful death and loss of consortium. Various other petitions for summary judgment by the defendants in the case are still pending. Those defendants include Bayer CropScience Inc., CBS Corp., McCarty Corp., Eagle Inc., and insurers OneBeacon America Insurance Co. and American Employers Insurance Co. General Electric Co. had been a defendant up until 2014, but managed to escape from the asbestos lawsuit as a defendant in March of last year.

Most asbestos lawsuits are based on circumstances whereby an industrial or asbestos worker is exposed to asbestos fibers without his or her knowledge at the work site. However, there have been occasions whereby industrial employees, unaware of the dangers inherent to asbestos, wear their work clothes home and thereby expose family members to the dangers. There have been lawsuits previously that have alleged wrongful death when a spouse has been exposed to the asbestos fibers contained on work clothes during the process of doing laundry.

In this case, it was the industrial worker’s daughter, undertaking her father’s laundry over several decades, that is alleged to have served as primary, albeit secondary exposure. Gros Vedros, it is claimed in the asbestos lawsuit, was also exposed directly for a period of three years when she worked in the shipyard’s purchasing department from 1960 through 1963.

The case is Vedros v. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Inc. et al., Case No. 2:11-cv-01198, in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.


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