Woman Who Married Mesothelioma Victim After Diagnosis Wins Florida High Court Ruling 

Jennifer Ripple and Richard Counter lived together in Florida for years before he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in May 2015. Two months after his diagnosis the two married, giving rise to a legal question that made its way to the Florida Supreme Court: Can a spouse married after injury seek damages in an asbestos claim? Despite decades of common-law practice barring this practice, the high court ruled in favor of the widow, allowing her to proceed with her wrongful death claim.

Florida Supreme Court

Mesothelioma Widow’s Wrongful Death Claim Leads to Groundbreaking Ruling

Richard Counter blamed his mesothelioma diagnosis on asbestos he worked with in the 1950s and 1960s, and he filed a personal injury lawsuit against asbestos manufacturer CBS Corporation a few weeks after he and Ripple wed. He died four months later, and his widow amended the complaint to include a wrongful death claim. That claim set off a battle that’s been waged ever since. 

The argument against Ms. Ripple being able to file a wrongful death mesothelioma claim was led by defense attorneys for CBS and joined in an amicus brief by the Coalition for Litigation Justice, an association of insurance companies. They argued that marriage-before-injury was required in liability cases, asserting that “a person may not marry into a cause of action.”

Supreme Court Favors Mesothelioma Widow in Decision

Despite the existence of what the asbestos companies call a “long-established rule” that a mesothelioma widow must be married before the injury is diagnosed or occurs to file a claim, the Florida Supreme Court’s review of the state’s 1972 Wrongful Death Act allows surviving spouses to seek damages, with no restrictions on the definition of who qualifies as a surviving spouse. 

In handing down its decision favoring the mesothelioma widow, the court wrote that despite previous decisions, “We conclude that a ‘surviving spouse under section 768.21(2) is a spouse at the time of the decedent’s death because the ordinary meaning of ‘surviving spouse’ is a spouse who outlives the other spouse.” They concluded, “We do not think that the common law ‘marriage before injury’ rule bars Ripple from recovering damages.”

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you need help getting justice on their behalf, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608 to learn more. 

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our Mesothelioma.net news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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