Just as is true of veterans of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, many members of the Merchant Marine were exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. One such seaman was Mason South, who served for nearly forty years and who died in 2015. Before his death Mr. South filed a lawsuit against Chevron Corporation seeking compensation for the damages that he suffered after exposure to asbestos on board the ships of Texaco, a company that Chevron now owns.
Mr. South’s mesothelioma was diagnosed in 2014 and he died one year later. When his widow assumed the lawsuit and pursued compensation from Chevron, the company pushed back, arguing that he had signed a release of future claims when he had participated in an asbestos lawsuit against Texaco in 1997. The South family fought back, and last week the New York Court of Appeals agreed with them that there was no way that the man could have predicted that he would later be diagnosed with an entirely different asbestos-related disease. Though the court’s decision was split, it does allow Mrs. South to proceed with a jury trial and to seek justice for the loss that her family has suffered and the pain and suffering that he endured.
When Mr. South had signed the release in 1997, it did not explicitly mention the possibility of a future diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma. The diagnosis that he was suffering at the time was a non-malignant pulmonary condition, and he and the other 100 or so plaintiffs in the case agreed to settle with Texaco, they were all given the same generic waiver of future claims to sign. Though Chevron argued that he should be held to the general terms in the release, the judge who wrote the decision wrote, “The release itself does not mention mesothelioma. The release recites that Mr. South understood he was relinquishing his rights, but the record does not presently establish his ‘full understanding’ of what he was extinguishing.”
The victory that the mesothelioma victim’s family won is just one step in their journey: they still have their lawsuit against Chevron ahead of them. If you are a veteran who has been similarly impacted by asbestos exposure and you need assistance, contact us today at 1-800-726-7245.