Claims for asbestos related diseases resulting from service aboard vessels for years are being raised by seamen filing suits under the Jones Act and alleged unseaworthiness under general maritime law. Since exposure to asbestos is claimed to have occurred aboard vessels, maritime law applies. In Bartel v. AC Products Liability Trust, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania considered a motion for summary judgment filed by United Fruit Company to dismiss the claims of the estate of a former employee who sailed aboard one of its vessels. See Bartel, Civ. Action No. 2:1037528ER, Doc 109 (E.D.Pa. Sept. 3, 2014). In opposition to the motion, the plaintiff offered a variety of general arguments and records, including: (a) US Coast Guard records confirming the decedent sailed aboard a vessel in 1944; (b) medical and scientific literature confirming that asbestos was widely used on vessels since 1918 and extensively on vessel built before 1975; (c) expert testimony as to how merchant mariners were regularly exposed to asbestos; and (d) testimony of various merchant mariners who testified that their fellow seamen were exposed regularly to asbestos while aboard ships.
In the end, the plaintiff provided no witness disclosure or other evidence confirming that the decedent was exposed to asbestos while serving aboard a United Fruit owned or operated vessel. Despite the fact that the burden of proving causation under the Jones Act is "slight causation" as opposed to "substantial factor causation," because the Jones Act's burden was incorporated from the "featherweight" standard of the Federal Employers Liability Act, the plaintiff must still prove a causal link between service on an owners vessel and exposure to asbestos.
Under these circumstances, the District Court determined that no "fair minded juror" could "with reason" draw the conclusion that the "negligence of the employer played any party at all in the injury of death." As such, United Fruit's motion for summary judgment dismissal of the plaintiff's claims was granted.