Must defendants be identified before bringing asbestos lawsuit?

Many people who have worked in North Carolina’s shipyards, steel mills, paper mills and other heavy industries may have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers on the job, but they have no idea which companies manufactured the asbestos-containing products that caused their exposure. Many of these people wonder if they can still sue to recover damages caused by this exposure. A recent case provides a textbook answer to this question.

Lack of specific knowledge about the source of asbestos-containing products does not prevent a person who is suffering from – or the survivors of a person who has died from – mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos fibers from commencing a lawsuit to recover damages. In a recently filed case, the widow of a worker who died from mesothelioma in 2013 sued 72 defendants claiming that they were at least partially at fault for her husband’s illness and death.

The defendants include former employers who, according to the allegations of the compliant, failed to warn the plaintiff’s husband of the presence of asbestos fibers or to advise him about the risks of asbestos exposure. Other defendants are the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products with which the decedent may have had contact. These defendants are alleged to have sold asbestos-containing products that they knew to cause lung cancer and other serious illnesses without placing warning labels on their products. All defendants are alleged to have failed to provide some form of warning about the hazards of asbestos exposure.

Some defendants in asbestos cases dominated the market for some kinds of asbestos-containing products, such as insulated pipe or brake gaskets. The identity of other defendants may be ascertained from documents in another asbestos case. The plaintiff’s lack of a complete recollection or knowledge about possible sources of asbestos-containing products is not a barrier to commencing a lawsuit to recover damages.

Source: West Virginia Record, “Widow names 72 defendants in asbestos case,” Kyla Asbury, Sept. 15, 2014