It was only a matter of months between the time that Michael Harris was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and the time that he died. Harris had been a hull maintenance technician onboard the USS San Jose in the early 1970s, and after his death his wife and children filed a wrongful death claim and survival claims against Triple A Machine Shop, a company that overhauled the ship and spread asbestos throughout Harris’ work environment. Though a lower court had dismissed the case saying that there was not enough information to support their claim, the Court of Appeals of California overturned this decision and permitted the case to move forward to trial.
Though the lower court agreed with Triple A that there was a “crucial gap” in the family’s theory of how Michael Harris had contracted mesothelioma, the Court of Appeals determined that the court had erred by relying solely on his earlier testimony that he was unaware of whether he had been exposed to asbestos by the company.
The court agreed that the lower court had ignored the standard procedure required for considering a motion for summary judgment in a mesothelioma case, which says that a case should only be dismissed if there is no triable issue of any material fact. They determined that the lower court had themselves resolved disputed issues of fact that should have been decided by a jury.
The evidence that the appeals court felt was ignored included testimony that Harris had worked near Triple A’s employees as they overhauled the engine rooms and boiler rooms, and that he had spent 20 hours in the area while the work was being done. He also testified that his word had required that he “patrol every part of that ship, checking for leaks and fires and people being in unauthorized areas,” which would clearly have put him in the presence of asbestos particles disturbed by the work.
Mesothelioma victims and their families often have to fight for their rights and the resources available to them. For support and information, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net at 1-800-692-8608.