Morrison Mahoney partner Ted Murphy recently obtained two defense verdicts for the preeminent builder of nuclear submarines for the United States Navy. In the first case, plaintiff worked as a welder and later inspector at our client’s shipyard for fifteen years. He left the company and went on to non-maritime employment as an inspector before developing severe COPD that prohibited him from performing the extensive climbing required in that position, leading to a premature retirement.
Plaintiff brought a case under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act, 33 U.S.C.§901, contending that his lung disease/disability was caused or at least aggravated by his exposure to dust and fumes while working for our client many years ago. The federal ALJ hearing the case ruled that plaintiff did not prove a causal connection between his lung disease and his exposures at the shipyard. The judge adopted the opinion of our experts over plaintiff’s treating pulmonary doctors and concluded that his previous modest cigarette smoking was the sole cause of his emphysema and disability. The judge also denied claimant’s motion for re-consideration in which he contended that our experts failed to take into consideration all of the by-products of the welding process when testifying as to their opinions.
In the second case, the plaintiff contended that he developed disabling knee osteoarthritis as a result of his work, causing him to leave his employment as a pipefitter. During discovery, it became apparent that he had a serious injury to the same knee while playing high school football. This injury required open (rather than arthroscopic) surgery and a complete removal of the protective meniscus. This was followed by a serious infection that caused him to be hospitalized for weeks. Although plaintiff was later able to secure employment with our client and work for many years, our orthopedic experts testified that he was “doomed” to develop disabling knee arthritis based on the surgery that was performed and infection thereafter. They testified that his rigorous work, including kneeling and crawling on hard surfaces, climbing and lifting did not contribute to the natural deterioration of his knee. They cited the normal condition of claimant’s right knee as a basis for their opinions. The ALJ agreed with our experts over plaintiff’s doctors, citing our strong cross-examination of the latter who admitted that the need for knee replacement was inevitable. The judge rejected as speculation their testimony that the need for knee replacement would have occurred later in life had it not been for his admittedly rigorous work at the shipyard.