Man Alleges Occupational Exposure to Asbestos Caused His Mesothelioma
An appellate court recently upheld a $4 million asbestos mesothelioma verdict. The plaintiff in the case is a man who developed mesothelioma, a type of aggressive cancer heavily associated with asbestos exposure, after working for Chicago Pneumatic and later the New York State Department of Transportation. He alleges occupational exposure to asbestos from both jobs.
The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits involving occupational and environmental hazards, including asbestos mesothelioma cases. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations.
While working in Chicago, the plaintiff was employed by Pacemaker Steel & Piping Co. (Pacemaker). According to the lawsuit, Pacemaker supplied bags and boards which allegedly exposed the plaintiff to asbestos. These materials were used for various heat treatment processes. The plaintiff also alleges he was exposed to asbestos in New York from brakes and other vehicular components. These parts were manufactured by Caterpillar Inc. (Caterpillar).
The lawsuit named Caterpillar, Pacemaker, Millar Steel & Industrial Supply Co. Inc. as defendants. The plaintiff settled with Caterpillar in March 2015 for an undisclosed sum. The case proceeded forward against Pacemaker and Millar. When the trial concluded, jurors awarded the plaintiff $4 million for his injuries. The awarded consisted of $3 million in pain and suffering.
The jury determined Pacemaker to be 30 percent at fault. The company subsequently appealed the $3 million portion of the verdict, returned against them.
However, an appellate panel upheld the verdict. The court found sufficient evidence to uphold the award. “Here, plaintiff’s expert opined that, if a worker sees asbestos dust, that is a ‘massive exposure … capable of causing disease,’” the panel stated in their April 28 decision. “Contrary to the Millar defendants’ contention, the expert’s opinion, considered along with the rest of her testimony, was sufficient to establish specific causation.”
“Asbestos in products [the Millar defendants] supplied was a substantial factor in causing or contributing to plaintiff’s injuries,” the appellate panel stated. “Plaintiff testified that he was exposed to asbestos dust from asbestos boards and cement supplied by the Millar defendants that were used in the heat treat area of a pneumatic-tool making plant.”
Parker Waichman notes that many asbestos mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed throughout the years, after the health risks became known. Many lawsuits are filed on behalf of workers who were exposed to asbestos in an occupational setting, but some are filed on behalf of bystanders and other individuals.
The dangers of asbestos became widely known around the 1960s, when the material was firmly linked to mesothelioma. This sparked asbestos mesothelioma litigation. Some asbestos mesothelioma lawsuits are filed individually, while others are class action lawsuits. In the latter, one lawsuit is filed on behalf of an entire group of plaintiffs who allege being wronged by a common defendant in the same manner. In asbestos class action lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant failed to protect plaintiffs from exposure to harmful asbestos fibers.
Asbestos litigation has produced some sizable verdicts and settlements. In 2014, an asbestos wrongful death claim produced a $7.7 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The lawsuit was filed against bus manufacturer Navistar International Corp. The decedent in the case was regularly exposed to asbestos while working as a bus driver for several decades, the suit alleged. Specifically, the suit said he inhaled asbestos fibers while work was being done on asbestos-containing bus parts.
One asbestos lawsuit, filed over alleged exposure related to an asbestos removal product at a courthouse in the 1980s, produced an $80 million settlement. According to the complaint, workers removed asbestos while plaintiffs were present without any safeguards to prevent them from inhaling the harmful fibers.
Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos is a material that was commonly used as a low-cost form of insulation from the 1940s through the 1970s. Parker Waichman notes that many old buildings contain asbestos. If the asbestos is disturbed (such as during demolition or heavy construction), the material can release fine asbestos fibers. Inhaling asbestos fibers presents a health hazard to humans; it can lead to asbestosis, a serious respiratory condition where the asbestos fibers cause scarring of the lung tissue. This non-cancerous disease causes shortness of breath and a dry crackling sound in the lungs. There is no effective treatment or cure for asbestosis and the condition is usually disabling or fatal.
Asbestos exposure can also cause cancer, especially lung cancer and mesothelioma. People who work in industries that directly involve the mining, milling manufacturing and use of asbestos have higher rates of lung cancer than the general population, Oregon State University Environmental Health and Safety notes. Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, chest and, on rare occasions, the heart. Nearly all cases of mesothelioma are associated with asbestos exposure. Symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, fluid buildup in the lungs, nausea or vomiting, weight loss and anemia (particularly in women).
According to This Old House, asbestos can be found in siding material, plaster, some forms of paint, HVAC duct insulation, some forms of linoleum, floor tiles, glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood, window caulking and glazing, and other areas. The presence of asbestos itself does not necessarily present a health hazard. The toxic effects result from the material being disturbed or damaged, releasing asbestos fibers which are subsequently inhaled.
Mesothelioma fatalities totaled 45,221 between 1999 and 2015, according to a Morbidity and Mortality Week Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 1999 to 2015, the number of people who died from mesothelioma increased from 2,479 to 2,597.
Asbestos-induced mesothelioma has a long latency period. In other words, the person exposed to asbestos will not develop mesothelioma symptoms until years after the exposure.
In the past, asbestos exposure mostly affected people working in the mining and milling, manufacturing, shipbuilding and repair, and construction industries, the CDC notes. Now, most cases of occupational exposure occur through building maintenance and remediation of buildings that contain asbestos.
The CDC report notes that deaths from mesothelioma are still significant, stating, “Despite regulatory actions and decline in asbestos use, the annual number of malignant mesothelioma deaths remains substantial.”
“Contrary to past projections, the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths has been increasing. The continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths, particularly among younger populations, underscores the need for maintaining efforts to prevent exposure and for ongoing surveillance to monitor temporal trends.”
Mesothelioma patients typically have a poor prognosis. The CDC says patients with malignant mesothelioma have a median survival of approximately 1 year. According to the American Lung Association, asbestos exposure accounts for 70 to 80 percent of mesothelioma cases.
Several health regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classify asbestos as a known human carcinogen.
Legal Help for Asbestos Mesothelioma Victims
If you or someone you know developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos, you may have valuable legal rights. Parker Waichman personal injury attorneys offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).