Spanish Workers Can Sue US Company for Asbestos Exposure

A New Jersey appellate court ruled that fifteen Spanish workers can sue an American company for asbestos-related diseases they say they developed due to work they performed on U.S. Navy ships in Spain.

According to an Associated Press article, the court ruled 3-0 in favor of the workers, reversing an earlier ruling made by a lower court that dismissed their lawsuit against manufacturer Owens-Illinois Inc. on jurisdictional grounds.

The workers, who toiled aboard U.S. Navy ships from 1950 to 1998, claim they were exposed to asbestos insulation products that were manufactured at New Jersey-based Owens-Illinois plants.

A lawyer for the company, John C. Garde, said that he was not sure yet whether or not Owens-Illinois would appeal. However, he questioned why the men should be allowed to sue in New Jersey when the injuries occurred overseas.

“I find it difficult to believe that any New Jersey court would countenance claims remaining in New Jersey that have nothing to do with New Jersey, with plaintiffs who have never even set foot in New Jersey,” Garde said.

Mitchell S. Cohen, lawyer for the plaintiffs, believes the original judge should have understood that New Jersey is the only place the case can be tried.

“Spanish law will not allow, under the facts of these cases, to file a claim in Spain,” Cohen said. That’s because the injuries took place on sovereign U.S. territory — the Navy warships, he said.

According to the article, the Spanish tradesmen said they were employed by private contractors or the Navy, and worked at the jointly owned U.S.-Spanish military installation in Rota, Spain, or at neighboring private shipyards in Cadiz, Spain. The suit was originally filed in 2004.

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