NOLA Jury Awards $10.3 Million Asbestos Verdict to Former Longshoreman Against Two Stevedoring Companies, Shipping Company

Pete and Rosalie

Henry and Rosalie Pete
Henry and Rosalie Pete during the 1960s in New Orleans.

Simmons Hanly Conroy attorneys represented 74-year-old Texas man diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer decades after unloading asbestos from ships at NOLA docks

New Orleans – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s leading mesothelioma law firms, has secured a $10.3 million verdict against two stevedoring companies and a shipping company on behalf of Henry Pete, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2019. Pete was exposed to raw asbestos he unloaded from the Port of New Orleans while working as a longshoreman in the 1960s.

The jury awarded $10,351,020.70 in compensatory damages to Pete today before the Hon. Ethel Simms Julien. The jury held Ports America Gulfport, Inc., f/k/a Atlantic & Gulf; Cooper T. Smith Stevedoring Co., Inc; and South African Marine (Safmarine) each substantially contributed to Pete’s development of mesothelioma.

Simmons Shareholders Gary DiMuzio, Michael K. Hibey, Melissa Crowe Schopfer, and Jean-Michel LeCointre represented the family in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans along with co-counsel from the Cheek Law Firm, LLC.

“After examining the evidence, the jury found the three companies failed to warn hard-working men like Henry and his family about the dangers of their asbestos cargo,” said DiMuzio, who served as lead attorney during the trial. “The jury sent a strong message with its verdict. Henry should have never been diagnosed with mesothelioma because he should have never been exposed to asbestos.”

After graduating high school, Pete worked as a longshoreman from 1964 until 1968, unloading cargo, including burlap bags of asbestos. During the unloading process, Pete testified the bags of asbestos would frequently tear and spread dust within the ship’s hold.

Pete grew up in New Orleans’s 10th district. After high school, Pete began going to work with his father, Preston Pete. He worked as a longshoreman at the Port of New Orleans. Henry Pete also experienced secondhand asbestos exposure from 1964-1968 when he helped his mother hand-wash his father’s dusty work clothes.

Mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. The dangers of asbestos have been known since the early 1900s. Health agencies agree there is no safe level of exposure and it takes decades for the cancer to develop. There is currently no cure.

Pete testified during trial he was heartbroken to learn of the diagnosis, unable to speak of it to his wife for a week. “My fear is that I might go to sleep one day and not wake up,” he said.

During trial, the plaintiff team argued defendants knew the dangers of asbestos but failed to warn their workers. In the shipping industry, African-American workers like Pete and his father, often worked the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.

“It was common knowledge,” Pete said during his deposition. “[African-American stevedores were assigned] the most dangerous and dirtiest jobs…but no one told me that it was dangerous cargo. At the time, it was just, ‘Hey, we got a job and let’s go do it.’”

In 1968, Pete joined the U.S. Air Force and became a medical technician which led him to get his degree in chiropractic care in 1988. He retired as a respected chiropractor in the Houston-area after a nearly 12-year career. He and Rosalie recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. Before his diagnosis, Pete spent his time with his eight grandchildren, driving them to various activities and sneaking them extra allowance. His cancer diagnosis significantly limited his ability to live his previously active life.

“I was known as the official Uber driver for the grandkids, but grandpa can’t do that anymore,” Pete said. “You can’t overpower this disease by thinking you can do things that you used to do. It takes a toll on the body.”

The verdict is the seventh asbestos verdict Simmons Hanly Conroy has won on behalf of mesothelioma patients in the past three years. Pete’s trial lasted 3 weeks, and the jury deliberated for 2.5 hours.

“While no amount of money can give Henry back his health, we are extremely pleased the companies are being held accountable for exposing Pete to cancer-causing asbestos,” said Hibey. “We hope this result brings some relief to Henry and his family.”

Local counsel in the case was Lindsey A. Cheek and Jeanne L. St. Romain of the Cheek Law Firm, LLC. The case is Henry Pete vs. Boland Marine and Manufacturing Company, LLC, et. al., No. 2019-10545, Section 8, Division N (La Civil. Dist. Ct., Orleans Parish.).

Pete currently resides in Texas, surrounded by his wife and family.