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Extra $2M for pain and suffering will stand

The widow of a former Navy sailor who died of mesothelioma may collect on a judgment she won in 2010, including a $2 million award for the sailor’s pain and suffering prior to his death.

On Feb. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari in John Crane Inc. v. Hardick, a case that originated in Newport News Circuit Court. The high court let stand a 2012 decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia, which reinstated the $2 million pain and suffering award when it reheard the case last September.

The ability under general maritime law to collect damages for pain and suffering is an important expanded remedy in mesothelioma cases, according to Newport News lawyer Robert R. Hatten, who represented the Hardick estate.

The defendant argued that the Death on the High Seas Act controlled the case because some of the sailor’s exposure occurred when ships on which he worked were out to sea. That federal statute applies to wrongful deaths that occur more than three miles from shore. Under DOHSA, and under Virginia law, the sailor’s estate would not be able to win damages for his pain and suffering prior to his death.

Hardick worked as a ship fitter, and most of the asbestos exposure sailors suffered occurred when the ships were in port, Hatten said, as the crew involved in repair work tend to stay on board while repairs are being made.

By denying review, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively affirms the availability of additional damages in general maritime survival actions, for a sailor’s pre-death pain and suffering.
–Deborah Elkins

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