The heirs of dockyard workers from the small Mediterranean country of Malta are filing liability claims in New York against American companies that provided asbestos products for U.S. Navy ships.
Many of the workers are already deceased either mesothelioma or asbestosis. Others are struggling with respiratory illnesses linked to asbestos on those Navy ships docked for service, repairs or regular maintenance in Malta shipyards.
According to Maltatoday, one of the country’s leading news providers, the families of more than 400 workers have filed either individual or class action lawsuits in the United States.
Most of the cases, from U.S. attorneys, were filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of New York. Although many of the companies named are no longer in business, there are more than 60 asbestos liability trusts in the United States worth a combined $37 billion.
It can take up to 50 years after being exposed to asbestos for a diagnosis of mesothelioma.
U.S. Navy veterans and workers in the shipbuilding industry are two of the hardest hit occupational groups in terms of asbestos poisoning because of its past prevalence on ships.
Although the U.S. military is protected by sovereign immunity and the Feres Doctrine from most liability, litigants can file against companies that provided toxic products used by the Navy. Most of the claims in the past involving Navy ships came from veterans or American shipyard workers.
This recent wave from Malta is relatively new. Much of it involved work done many years ago for the Navy at the HM Drydocks, which later become the Malta Drydocks. In the past, the trust money was protected against exposure that occurred on land outside the United States.
The recent class action suits were combined with other shipyard workers in Great Britain and Greece who also are seeking compensation for asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used on warships from bow to stern, and most prominently in boiler rooms, engine rooms and any confined areas. It was used for its heat resistance, playing a large role in preventing fires aboard the ship.
As part of the recent wave of asbestos litigation, attorneys for the foreign ship maintenance works want their claims to be designated as “standard,” which requires less documentation of exposure and allows for easier compensation payouts.
The “non-standard” designation, which they now have, are more stringently reviewed and each one is judged individually.
One of the richest defendants is the Johns Manville Corp., which went into bankruptcy in 1982 to protect itself from a wave of litigation but came out in 1988. It was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in 2001.
According to Maltatoday, the Manville trust already has paid out $4.2 billion to asbestos-related injury claims.