Most people who contract a disease as a result of exposure to toxic substances during the course of their work are entitled to file a lawsuit against their employers. Employees of private shipping and shipbuilding companies have successfully filed lawsuits and obtained massive settlements in relation to diagnoses of mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos in the course of their employment.
Unfortunately, Navy personnel and veterans do not enjoy this right. A 1950 Supreme Court decision in Feres v. United States declared that the federal government could not be sued by military personnel or their families for injuries arising from the course of active military duty. This rule is known as the Feres Doctrine, and while it has faced repeated legal challenges in the decades since the decision, courts have consistently upheld, and indeed expanded the scope of, the rule limiting members of the armed forces from suing their employer—the United States federal government.
So what recourse do Navy veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma have? There are three broad courses of actions that can be pursued:
File a Claim with the Veterans Administration
Although barred from filing a lawsuit against the Navy, veterans may file a claim directly with the Veterans Administration (VA). A successful claim may entitle veterans suffering from mesothelioma to free medical care within the VA healthcare system, monthly disability compensation, and other associated benefits to offset the cost of ongoing medical treatment related to their disease. Although the VA provides generous benefits to successful claimants, the process for filing is complicated and requires substantial supporting documentation. It is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney specializing in VA claims to ensure your claim is successful.
File a Claim with Asbestos Trust Funds
It is estimated there is over 30 billion dollars in asbestos trust funds setup by current and bankrupt companies to settle present and future lawsuits against companies that negligently manufactured, produced, or otherwise exposed Navy veteran personnel. It is possible for veterans that served in the United States Navy who were exposed to asbestos to hire a attorney who knows how to navigate the asbestos bankruptcy claims to find all possible sources of compensation. Asbestos trust fund claims typically only pay a portion of a claim award, so an experienced attorney is essential to research and track down all possible trusts that could award a Navy Seaman or other contracted persons the maximum amount of compensation.
File a Lawsuit Against a Navy Subcontractor
A more recently explored, and increasingly successful, course of action for Navy veteran mesothelioma sufferers has been to file a lawsuit against a private company subcontracted by the Navy. These lawsuits typically allege that subcontractors knowingly and negligently provided unsafe asbestos-containing materials to be used in the construction and repair of navy ships and facilities. Successful plaintiffs have also sued private shipyards at which the ships they served on were built, and manufacturers of ship components such as valves and gauges.
In 2014, a California jury awarded a former navy machinist $71 million in damages to him and his wife in relation to mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure while serving in the Navy from 1964-1990. Juries have consistently awarded successful plaintiffs in the millions or tens of millions of dollars in compensation for mesothelioma-related damages—compensation that can be critical in securing treatment and financial security for their families.
Consult a Navy Mesothelioma Lawyer
If you are a Navy veteran who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you need to be aware of the options available to you. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer will review your case and advise you of what is the best course of action, whether filing a claim with the VA or a lawsuit against a military subcontractor.