The Pan Am Terminal at the JFK International Airport is an iconic building that has recently come back into the public eye as a refurbished boutique hotel, but that doesn’t change the structure’s long history of being a potent source of asbestos exposure. Recently, the family of a man who died of malignant mesothelioma filed an asbestos exposure lawsuit against the Port Authority of New York, arguing that his illness was caused by years of negligent exposure when he worked in the building as an employee of Pan American Airlines.
The asbestos exposure lawsuit was filed by the family of Bernd Hildebrand, who died of malignant mesothelioma less than two months after having been diagnosed with the rare and fatal form of cancer. Because the duration of his illness was so short, Hildebrand did not have the opportunity to provide a deposition in support of his legal claim against the Port Authority, but other witnesses came forward, and judge Manuel J. Mendez of the Supreme Court of New York County ruled against the Port Authority’s motion for summary judgment so that the case could move ahead to a jury trial.
Asbestos Exposure From Decades Ago Leads to Labor Law and Common-Law Negligence Claims
According to testimony provided during the hearing before Judge Mendez, Mr. Hildebrand worked for Pan Am in the iconic terminal building for years, and witnesses indicated that the asbestos exposure that he endured while working was significant. His co-worker Julia Wissell testified that she too worked for Pan Am between 1969 and 1986 and that she saw bags of asbestos stacked throughout the terminal. She described the extensive amount of dust that she and Mr. Hildebrand breathed in while walking through the building, as well as of her awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure following her own father’s death from malignant mesothelioma.
Another witness who testified about the high levels of asbestos exposure was a former Pan Am project manager who indicated that Pan Am constantly submitted plans to the Port Authority for review and approval. This testimony specifically negated the Port Authority’s argument that they were not responsible for the asbestos. The judge ruled against the Port Authority and a jury will decide on whether Mr. Hildebrand’s family is entitled to compensation for the asbestos exposure that led to his death.