North Carolina has many buildings that were built prior to 1960s and before awareness about the health hazards of airborne asbestos fibers. Renovation of these buildings often requires removal of asbestos-containing products that were used in the building’s original construction. Sometimes, however, asbestos removal is either ignored or mishandled. A potentially gigantic class action involving the Jackson County courthouse in Kansas City, Mo. that now has been reinstated by the Missouri Court of Appeals makes these exact allegations.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of county employees and others who spent time in the court house since 1983. In that year, the county hired an engineering firm to remodel the building’s HVAC system. Some components of the system were wrapped in asbestos cloth or covered with plaster containing asbestos fibers. The engineering firm was aware of both the presence of asbestos and the extreme health risk posed by airborne fibers. Nevertheless, employees of the firm simply cut into the asbestos-containing materials without first turning off the air handling system. This omission allowed asbestos dust to circulate throughout the building, thereby exposing thousands of people to this very hazardous substance.
The trial court dismissed the case, but the plaintiffs appealed and won the right to proceed with their class action lawsuit. In reinstating the suit, the Missouri Court of Appeals observed that asbestos still remains in the courthouse to this day. A verdict or settlement in the case could cost the county and the engineering firm many millions of dollars.
Cases of this kind are a powerful reminder that the health risks caused by asbestos product exposure are still with us. North Carolina laws impose a number of requirements on the renovation of older buildings that are intended to prevent the situation that is now plaguing Jackson County. Any person who has been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers in such a building should seek an immediate medical exam for signs of asbestosis or mesothelioma. If the diagnosis for either disease is positive, a lawyer with experience in bringing claims for asbestos exposure should be consulted as soon as possible to determine if a legal claim for damages is viable.
Source: The Pitch, “Missouri Court of Appeals reinstates potentially massive asbestos lawsuit against Jackson County, others,” Steve Vockrodt, March 17, 2015