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Court Decides for Mesothelioma Widow, Rules 20-Year Old Waiver is Unenforceable

When Anne M. South’s husband Mason was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, it was a devastating blow but it didn’t come as a surprise. the 37-year veteran of the Merchant Marine had worked onboard ships contaminated by asbestos-containing products for many years, and the family knew that asbestos presented a danger. In fact, the fears that those dangers posed were so great that back in 1997 the family had filed a claim against Texaco, accusing the company of being responsible for his “cancer phobia, traumatic stressful fear of affliction and worsening of pneumoconiosis as well as exacerbation of existing diseases.” They had sought damages due to the fact that these fears meant that he needed to be monitored for asbestos-related diseases constantly. In response, Texaco had settled with the family and paid Mason $1,750.00. They had also required that he sign a release from all actions, suits and claims against the company in the future. What surprised Mrs. South was that when Mason was diagnosed with and later died of mesothelioma, the company refused to provide any compensation based on that release.

This mesothelioma lawsuit was a complicated one that required review by both the Supreme Court of New York County an the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, but the judges sided with Mrs. South in both instances. Though it is true that Mr. South had signed a release, the family argued that it was illegal for Texaco to have included mesothelioma as one of the diseases for which he could not later file a claim. This argument, which was deemed correct by the courts, relies on section 5 of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, which prohibits agreements that exempt common carriers from liability. Because Mr. South did not have mesothelioma at the time that he signed the waiver and was not aware of the specific risk of mesothelioma, the waiver was deemed moot. The court also made a point of noting that the consideration that Mr. South had received in exchange for signing the release – the $1,750 – was “extremely low, given South’s alleged extensive asbestos exposure.” The court referred to the payment as meager.

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Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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