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Texas Appeals Court Tosses Judge James Farris' Asbestos-Related Wrongful Death Suit

A Texas appeals court tossed out Ellarene Farris’ suit against Jefferson County, accusing it of grossly negligent conduct in exposing her husband, Judge James Farris, to asbestos while he worked there. The appeals court stated that Jefferson County was not provided with notice of the claim within six months of the last incident giving rise to the clam, as required under state law.

Former Jefferson County District Court Judge James Farris spent his career working inside an asbestos-riddled courthouse until 1996, and later died of mesothelioma in November of 2004. Farris was diagnosed with this disease just nine days before this death, and his wife Ellarene provided Jefferson County with notice of a wrongful death claim in April of 2005, less than six months after his first symptoms of mesothelioma and resulting death. However, the Court of Appeals Panel for the First District ruled in a 2-1 decision that because the last time he was exposed to asbestos in the courthouse was in December of 1996, the six-month window closed in 1997, not in 2005. In Justice Terry Jennings’ dissent, he wrote that the majority’s decision “should be corrected by our high court.”

“Based on the majority’s reasoning, Judge Farris was required to provide Jefferson County with notice of a premature and speculative claim within six months of December 1996,” said Justice Jennings. “Because Judge Farris had not suffered any damage or injury, and did not even arguably have a claim against Jefferson County, until nine days before his death, I would hold that Ellarene’s notice, provided within six months of Judge Farris’s first symptoms and, ultimately terminal, mesothelioma diagnosis, was timely.”

Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC attorney J. Kyle Beale, who represents the estate, told reporters from Law360 that his client intends to lodge an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court or ask the Court of Appeals for a rehearing.

“The ruling imposes a notice burden on those with latent injuries like Judge Farris that is legally and factually impossible to meet,” he said in a statement. “It closes the courthouse doors to those with latent diseases that would never manifest themselves within the six-month notice period upheld by the Court of Appeals. Judge Farris could not have known he had an injury within six months, as his mesothelioma did not manifest itself until some eight years later.”

At Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC, we won’t stop fighting for our clients as long as there is an option available for us to pursue. Asbestos has caused countless people to suffer through no fault of their own, and we are committed to securing the maximum compensation possible for those affected through exposure to it. Call us today to discuss your situation with one of our Houston mesothelioma attorneys if you were exposed to asbestos, or fill out our online form to schedule a free case evaluation.

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