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North Carolina Asbestos Law Blog

Gateway Arch renovation stalled by asbestos

This blog has written repeatedly on two themes: the continuing presence of asbestos in the environment and the hazards associated with renovating older buildings in which use of asbestos was common. The latter theme is especially important in North Carolina and other states with large stocks of buildings constructed prior to WWII. Now these two themes have come together in surprising fashion connection with the renovation of one of America's most modernistic and iconic structures: the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Few structures symbolize post-war America as dramatically as the Gateway Arch. Its clean and striking lines almost say "No asbestos here." But now, a multimillion dollar renovation of the Arch has been slowed down by the discovery of asbestos-containing products in the Arch's underground museum. While no asbestos fibers have been detected in the public areas of the Arch and the museum, the potential for contamination in the basement remains high. Workers cut into a pipe on Nov. 3 and discovered asbestos insulation. The workers then realized that they had cut into the same pipe one month earlier. This discovery meant that asbestos fibers had been released into the basement spaces during the intervening thirty days. The National Park Service, which manages the Arch and its grounds, believes that 50 park service employees were exposed to the airborne fibers.

House passes FACT Act but bill faces many hurdles

Defenders of the asbestos industry have been pushing Congress to enact legislation that would make pursuing class actions and recovering damages from asbestos trust funds more difficult. The ultimate future of these measures is murky at best, but the House of Representatives last week took the first steps toward enactment by passing two bills as a single law, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (the so-called "FACT Act"). If finally enacted, the bill would affects lawsuits and asbestos trust funds in North Carolina and the other forty-nine states.

Most observers recognize the legislation as a pro-business attempt to increase the difficulty of obtaining reasonable recoveries by victims of asbestos product exposure. The class action provisions require the trial judge to certify that all plaintiffs in the class have suffered the same type and scope of illness as the named class representatives. This requirement creates an obvious barrier to gathering a class of qualified class members and obtaining certification of the class under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Court hears appeal involving cumulative asbestos exposure

In recent posts, this blog has called attention to the continuing vitality of litigation seeking damages for exposure to airborne asbestos fibers in North Carolina and elsewhere. This same theme was repeated by attorneys on both sides of a case recently heard by the supreme court of a nearby state.

The plaintiff was an independent contractor who performed sheet metal work at various textile plants in the other state. He died in 2009 from mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer that is caused almost solely by exposure to fibers released by asbestos-containing products. His lawyers argued at trial, and produced expert testimony to support the claim, that the plaintiff was afflicted not by a single source of asbestos but by cumulative exposure to asbestos from many sources. The jury awarded his heirs $4-million in damages.

Experts say health hazards from asbestos products persist

In the early 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency began banning the use of asbestos-containing products in products used in the construction industry. The ban has widened, but according to contemporary experts, the white mineral continues to cause serious and often fatal illnesses.

Scientists and physicians have long known that inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause chronic lung disease such as asbestosis. Asbestos product exposure can also cause mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the lungs and abdomen. A leading thoracic surgeon recently observed that "The vast majority of mesotheliomas are related to asbestos exposure." Mesothelioma is almost always fatal.

Court rejects defense to asbestos suit based on statute of repose

Virtually every state in the Union, including North Carolina, has passed what is called a "statute of repose." Among other things, statutes of repose apply to lawsuits for injuries alleged to have arisen out of a defective condition in a product.

In a ruling that may have implications for asbestos victims in North Carolina and elsewhere, a state appellate court ruled that its state's statute does not bar claims for exposure to asbestos-containing products brought by the widow of a man who died after working around asbestos.

Asbestos in schools remains both a hazard and a mystery

This blog has repeatedly discussed the hazard posed by asbestos-containing products in older buildings. An especially dangerous hazard is posed by asbestos products in schools. Congress passed two measures intended to ascertain the scope of and abate this hazard, the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Act of 1984 and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986. In spite of broad language that required local education agencies to inspect schools for asbestos-containing products, develop plans to manage and remove the hazard, and create plans for continued monitoring, the actual extent of asbestos in schools remains largely unknown.

Two senators, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, sent letters of inquiry to all 50 states in an effort to determine what efforts have been made to fulfill the goals of the two statutes. Only twenty states submitted a response, but a report based on these responses was published by Sen. Markey's office in December.

Experts recognize "third wave" of asbestos disease

When the health hazards of exposure to asbestos fibers first intruded into the public consciousness in the 1960s, the victims were asbestos miners, millers and persons who worked for industries that manufactured asbestos products. The second wave of victims involved persons who installed asbestos-containing products such as insulation, boiler coverings, gaskets and brake linings. Now a third wave of asbestos-caused disease is threatening workers in North Carolina and elsewhere.

The threat comes from asbestos that has been in place for many years, even decades, and is now being removed to permit building renovation or demolition. The threat is not much of a surprise to persons who are experts in the field. While new consumption of asbestos products has declined by a thousandfold in the last thirty years, much asbestos remains in place in older buildings, heating systems and automotive brakes. When that asbestos is disturbed, it can cause the same illnesses - mesothelioma, asbestosis and other forms of lung cancer - as it did when it was being mined or used to manufacture asbestos-containing products.

NC Workers Killed In Industrial Accident

Every job has its fair share of potential dangers that can lead to a worker's inability to be able to function at his or her job, or in more extreme and tragic situations, lead to death. Industrial plants are one of those jobs that contain more risks than others and an accident at one in Goldsboro has left three workers' families looking for answers.

Earlier this month, at SPX Transformer Solutions in Goldsboro, two men were killed and a third remains hospitalized, fighting for his life. Reports state the first man was working in a transformer when he became unresponsive. A co-worker then entered the transformer where he too lost consciousness. The third worker, in an effort to save the other two, also went into the transformer and soon after also lost consciousness. 

Respirator maker sued in connection with mesothelioma

Because of the pain and suffering associated with mesothelioma, it is not uncommon for those who are diagnosed with the disease to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for exposure to asbestos—the substance that causes the condition. In many situations when lawsuits are filed in connection with mesothelioma, it is on the basis that the worker was unaware that they were exposed to asbestos in the first place. As an asbestos lawsuit that was recently consolidated illustrates, this is not the only basis for such a lawsuit however.

 

Understanding asbestos trust funds

Over the course of six decades of litigation in North Carolina and elsewhere involving the health hazards of asbestos, many companies have elected to seek protection from such claims under the federal Bankruptcy Act. A bankruptcy proceeding proved to be an effective method of controlling an asbestos company's legal exposure for damages, but claimants were often left short-changed or even empty-handed even when they had compelling claims for damages.

In 1994, Congress attempted to create a compromise solution based upon the outcome of the bankruptcy proceeding commenced by Johns-Manville Company. Under Section 524(g) of the Bankruptcy Code, a company facing numerous tort claims based upon asbestos product exposure can create an asbestos trust fund to receive and pay claims. Each trust fund must establish Trust Distribution Procedures ("TDPs") that are appropriate for the company in question. If the bankruptcy court approves the amount of money that will be committed to the fund, and approves the proposed TDPs, all asbestos claims against that company are assigned to the trust fund, and no independent claims can be made in any other court. The company is legally discharged from all future liability for asbestos claims.

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