Most people in North Carolina are aware that asbestos can cause a number of serious illnesses, but very few understand the way in which asbestos makes people sick and - in too many cases - kills them. In this post, we want to describe the various ways in which asbestos can cause serious illness.
This blog has frequently noted the widespread use of asbestos in building materials, insulation products and valve and brake gaskets in North Carolina and elsewhere. The final product, i.e., the product sold to the consumer, may contain asbestos or an asbestos-containing product that was provided or manufactured by another company. Courts have been required to decide who is liable in these instances - the original supplier of the asbestos or the manufacturer of the final product.
Employees in North Carolina and elsewhere who learn that asbestos is present on property owned by their employers are often reluctant to say anything for fear of being fired or suffering other forms of recrimination. A school custodian in Michigan suffered such a fate after reporting the presence of asbestos-containing floor tiles in a school where she worked. However, she was able to recover damages because negative statements about her made by the School District were held by the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be an act of retaliation.
The custodian had been given the task of re-waxing tile floors in the high school, but, because the job was behind schedule, she and other custodians were told to merely dry sand the floors instead of cleaning and re-waxing them. The floor tiles contained asbestos fibers, but this fact was not discovered until after the sanding was completed. The sanding released the asbestos fibers into the air, and the custodians used leaf blowers to blow the fine white powder released by the tiles into large trash bags that were tossed into a dumpster. None of the custodians had received training in asbestos abatement procedures, and none was given adequate protective clothing or masks.
You may have heard the word asbestos frequently used but wondered what diseases asbestos exposure could cause. Asbestos exposure can cause a variety of diseases that fall into three broad categories of negative health effects including lung cancer; asbestosis; and mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a serious and progressive disease of the lungs but is not a cancer. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is found in the lining of the lung, chest, abdomen and heart.
Mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer are all serious and possibly fatal medical conditions that are caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to diagnose and can cause significant suffering for victims and their families. Asbestos exposure can occur when asbestos fibers are disturbed in products containing asbestos material. Exposure can occur years prior to the development of any asbestos-related disease.
In our last two posts, we discussed the wide-spread attempts by the asbestos industry to hide from the public the truth about the health hazards of asbestos. In this post, we are going to show how aggressive lawyers who are committed to the welfare of their clients have developed techniques to meet and defeat the asbestos industry's cover-up.
Perhaps the single most difficult aspect of an asbestos product liability case is the determination of which manufacturer's products the plaintiff was exposed to. By sharing information from many cases, attorneys seeking damages on behalf of asbestos exposure victims were able to identify the leading suppliers of raw asbestos and the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products such as boiler and pipe insulation, acoustic ceiling tiles, shingles, brake linings, valve gaskets and spray-on fireproofing. The network of plaintiffs' asbestos lawyers has also identified knowledgeable scientists and physicians who can persuasively testify about the medical hazards of asbestos. Once the possible defendants have been identified, the next issue is the plaintiff's medical history.
In our previous post, we wrote about the refusal of the asbestos industry to acknowledge the health hazards posed by airborne asbestos fibers. In this post, we will review the ongoing efforts of the asbestos industry to deny these hazards posed by asbestos-containing products and to create a phony science intended to limit the legal liability of companies that mine or use asbestos.
In the 1970s, aggressive attorneys began to sue companies that used asbestos in their products but failed to warn anyone about its known health hazards. In response, the industry responded by starting a public relations campaign to deflect attention away from these hazards. Ford Motor Company was facing a number of products liability lawsuits over asbestos used in its brake linings, and it hired an industry consultant to conduct studies and write articles intended to "prove" that asbestos did not pose any kind of hazard to persons who worked with the material. At the same time, medical researchers were showing that mesothelioma, an especially lethal form of lung cancer, was caused almost exclusively be asbestos product exposure.
Most people in North Carolina are aware of the health hazard posed by airborne asbestos fibers. Some know that inhalation of asbestos fibers causes asbestosis and that asbestos is the only known cause of a lethal form of lung cancer called mesothelioma. At the same time, these people are unaware of the long battle waged by manufacturers of asbestos and asbestos-containing products to prevent information about this hazard from being widely disseminated or used in court cases involving claims for damages due to asbestos product exposure. In this two-part post, we will provide a brief history of the war between the asbestos industry and the advocates who have urged a complete ban on the use of this fluffy mineral.
The earliest knowledge of the hazards of asbestos emerged around 1900, when a London doctor found asbestos fibers in the lungs of a textile worker who died at age 33 from severe pulmonary fibrosis. Statistical evidence gathered between the World Wars also pointed to asbestos as the cause of an unusual number of deaths for those who worked with the mineral. In the 1930s, "asbestosis" was identified as a disease that killed many workers who had been exposed to the fibers on the job.
In a ruling that could affect asbestos claimants in North Carolina and elsewhere, a state supreme court has reinstated a jury verdict in favor of a worker who died from exposure to asbestos fibers. The trial court set aside the verdict in favor of the man's employer, but the decision was reversed on appeal.
From 1969 to 1979, the plaintiff worked as a warehouseman and truck driver for a firm that sold and delivered cement piping that contained asbestos fibers. The pipes were made by Johns Manville Co., the largest manufacturer of such asbestos-containing products at the time. The asbestos in the pipes was crocidolite, the most dangerous form of the mineral. Neither Johns Manville nor the man's employer provided any warnings about the hazards asbestos product exposure, even though both were aware of the hazards. The jury awarded the man's family $5 million in damages against both defendants, but the trial court reversed the verdict in favor of the man's employer, reasoning that the distributor had a right to rely on the superior knowledge of the pipe's manufacturer.
This blog has written repeatedly about the criminal and civil liability faced by private parties in North Carolina and elsewhere who undertake renovation or demolition of older buildings without obtaining permits for asbestos removal or using approved asbestos-removal contractors. A case from another state - Washington - underscores hazard created by the improper removal of asbestos-containing products.
The state attorney general filed a criminal complaint against three individuals and a company alleging multiple violations of the state's clean air laws that govern asbestos removal and demolition. The charges arise out of the renovation of a historic hotel in Spokane. The attorney general alleges that the owners failed to obtain permits from the City of Spokane and failed to hire an approved contractor. The only permit application filed with the city stated only that the owners were going to merely replace, paint and texture drywall. Inspectors for the city and the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency drove by the hotel and spotted piles of debris likely to contain asbestos. Subsequently agency investigators spotted another pile of debris that had remained in the open air for several months. Asbestos fibers can be blown significant distances if exposed to the wind, and on at least one occasion wind gusts in the area were measured at 43 mph.
North Carolina residents who worked in close proximity to asbestos-containing products, such as pipe fitters, plumbers and boiler installers, are generally thought to be the typical asbestos victim. Another class of victims is now emerging – wives who contracted an asbestos-related disease after years of washing their husband’s asbestos-contaminated clothing.
A state court trial judge in Baton Rouge recently awarded $7 million in damages to the children of a woman who was exposed to asbestos fibers during the many years she spent laundering her husband’s work clothing. The woman’s husband was employed at Placid Oil Company, where his job duties included replacing worn gaskets and removing insulation. In performing these duties, he was regularly required to climb over equipment that was covered with asbestos dust. When his wife washed his work clothes, she inhaled asbestos fibers that had been carried home. She died from mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer with one known cause: the inhalation of asbestos fibers.