United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Plaintiff Linda Crossland alleged home exposure to asbestos from her husband’s clothing while he was employed at Avondale Shipyards, where he was responsible for building and repairing ships. The plaintiff sued numerous defendants, alleging that they negligently failed to warn her husband of the dangers of asbestos and to provide him with safe quarters. Avondale returned the suit to federal court, relying on “government contractor immunity” established by Boyle and the “derivative sovereign immunity” defense set forth in Yearsley. The plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding the defenses of government immunity advanced by Avondale and Hopeman Brothers, Inc.
With respect to warning failure claims, the Fifth Circuit applied the following version of the Boyle test: “(1) the United States exercised its discretion and approved the warnings; (2) the contractor has provided a warning consistent with the approved warnings; (3) the contractor warned of the dangers of which he was aware, but not the government. »
The Court found that Avondale had failed to establish that it was entitled to government contractor immunity. The Court rejected Avondale’s argument that the government requiring warnings related to radiation and flammable liquid hazards, in addition to providing a maximum threshold for asbestos exposure, demonstrated that the government “exercised significant discretion in deciding whether or not to issue asbestos warnings”. Additionally, the court noted that the government did not appear to be involved in determining what warnings, if any, to give Avondale employees. That is, “no governmental discretion was exercised”.
Below Yearsley, a public contractor cannot be held liable so long as “(1) the contractor’s enforcement authority has been validly conferred by the government, and (2) the contractor has not exceeded the authority conferred by his contract”. The Court ultimately found that Avondale’s decisions regarding security measures were not “directed or authorized” by the government. Accordingly, the Court granted the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment.
Read the full decision here