In Dorothy Redding, widow of William Redding (Dec.) v. Todd Shipyards Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Incorporated-Pascagoula Operations (Case No. 2019-LHC-01243), the widow of William Redding sought death benefits due to her husband’s exposure to asbestos at Huntington Ingalls, and later at Todd Shipyards, which allegedly resulted in esophageal cancer and the employee’s death. Both employers disputed that decedent was exposed to asbestos in their employ. Huntington Ingalls filed Requests for Admissions against Todd Shipyards asserting that Todd Shipyards was the last maritime employer to expose the decedent to asbestos and therefore the responsible employer for the payment of benefits, if any. Requests for Admissions are deemed admitted if not specifically denied or objected to within 30 days. 29 C.F.R. § 18.63. Todd Shipyards failed to deny or object within 30 days. Thereafter, Huntington Ingalls granted Todd Shipyards three extensions in which to respond to the discovery. Todd Shipyards still failed to respond and therefore Huntington Ingalls filed a Motion for Summary Decision. Todd Shipyards still never answered the Admissions and even failed to respond to the Motion for Summary Decision. Accordingly, the administrative law judge entered an Order Granting Summary Decision finding Todd Shipyards was the responsible Employer since that issue was conclusively established by Todd Shipyards failure to respond to Requests for Admissions. 29 C.F.R. § 18.63(b).1 Therefore, Huntington Ingalls was dismissed from the case which has continued to proceed against Todd Shipyards.
In Figueroa-Rios v. Huntington Ingalls Incorporated-Pascagoula Operations (Case No. 2020-LHC-00311), a similar result occurred when the Claimant failed to deny a Request for Admission within 30 days that Claimant’s continuing medical conditions are unrelated to his employment. Huntington Ingalls unilaterally granted the Claimant two extensions in which to answer the discovery, including the Requests for Admissions, but the Claimant failed to respond. Thereafter, Huntington Ingalls filed a Motion to Compel the Claimant to respond to the discovery, including the Requests for Admissions, and yet the Claimant still failed to respond. Subsequently, Huntington Ingalls filed a Motion for Summary Decision asserting that by his failure to respond to the Requests for Admissions, the Claimant had admitted that his continuing medical problems were unrelated to his employment. In granting summary decision, the administrative law judge noted that the regulations provide that where a party fails to deny Requests for Admissions within 30 days, the requests are deemed admitted as a matter of law and they conclusively establish the fact admitted and such an admission is a sufficient basis for summary decision. Accordingly, the entire claim was denied.
In conclusion, Requests for Admissions pose a significant danger to the unwary. Since they are just a procedural tool that can destroy an otherwise deserving Claimant’s case, the judges are reluctant to enter such decisions. However, where there are extenuating circumstances, such as a party’s failure to answer admissions following extensions, and where no logical reason is given for the failure to timely respond, the judges will summarily grant summary decision. Just remember, whoever lives by the sword may die by the sword. Therefore, Requests for Admissions should be double diaried for answer and they should be answered within 30 days.
If there are questions about these decisions contact Paul Howell at [email protected] of (228) 868-7070.
1Summary judgment in workers’ compensation cases under the LHWCA are referred to as summary decisions. 29 C.F.R. § 18.72