Navy Veteran Asbestos Exposure

November 11, 2014

2536571957_36ef0848ce_m.jpgVeterans who served in the Navy have the highest rates of mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer out of all veterans of the Armed Forces. Those who served between 1930 and 1990 particularly were likely exposed at some point during their service. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explore this troubling phenomenon, and outline resources available for asbestos victims.

Asbestos was used to heavily in Navy ships and submarines because of its low cost, heat-resistance, and insulation capabilities. Nearly every vessel that was built between 1930 and 1970 (when asbestos was banned) contained several tons of asbestos in many different applications. Asbestos was used in the tiles on ship decks and in any rooms that needed heat resistance, such as boiler rooms and weapons or ammunition rooms.

One Navy veteran, Kenneth McAfee, recently filed a lawsuit against four companies that he believes contributed to his asbestos exposure while in the service. Among the defendants are General Electric and Crane Co., which manufactured asbestos-containing products that were installed on Navy ships.

It is important for veterans to know that, if they choose to file a lawsuit for the injuries suffered from exposure to asbestos in the military, the case is not against the government. Rather, the claims would be filed against the companies that manufactured and distributed the asbestos-containing products that caused exposure.

McAffee's case in Pennsylvania exemplifies this. In his lawsuit, the veteran accuses GE of selling equipment that was encased in asbestos wire wrappings, which emitted asbestos dust particles. He also accused Crane of selling gaskets, packing, compressors and insulation containing asbestos. The veteran then breathed in these dust particles, and the asbestos lodged into his lungs.

When asbestos enters the lungs, it remains there. In some victims, those asbestos pieces cause cellular changes, affecting the DNA over several decades, ultimately leading to malignant tumors. These tumors begin either in the lungs, or in the lining of the lungs, called the mesothelium. This is where the term mesothelioma gets its name, and it can affect the tissue lining the lungs, stomach, heart or other organs.

McAffee served in the Navy from 1969 to 1991, and worked for three years afterward in a Navy shipyard. Part of his duties involved repairing equipment on these ships, which is where his exposure took place.

Civilians who worked around ship, auto, train, and other friction equipment parts are at very high risk of asbestos exposure as well. A similar case in Pennsylvania recently ended in $1 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. for exposing its workers to asbestos. The victim in this case worked at a Ford dealership where he was exposed to asbestos in brake pads. He ultimately developed mesothelioma and filed suit against Ford.

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Tobacco Companies to Pay $41 Million to Lung Disease Victim

October 23, 2014

6076728842_ffce33a681_b.jpgA man diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was recently awarded $41 million by a Florida jury. Both Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company will be liable for the damages incurred by the plaintiff in this case. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explain this case and others like it around the country.

The cigarette giants were accused in this case of conspiring to conceal the dangers of smoking, along with the true addictiveness of cigarettes. The plaintiff, Kenneth Kerrivan, started smoking at age 14, eventually developing severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 1993. He did ultimately quit smoking, and shortly thereafter filed this lawsuit.

Kerrivan alleged that tobacco companies hid information about the addictive nature of cigarettes, as he became addicted to them during an era when they were widely marketed to youths. Tobacco companies would use celebrities and even famous athletes to promote their products in attempts to appeal to and addict children so they would be lifetime smokers.

This $41 million verdict is the latest in the string of cases resulting from the 2006 Engle vs. Liggett Group class action, which was filed on behalf of smokers and their families injured by cigarette companies. Despite a $145 billion verdict, the class action was decertified in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court, however, everyone involved is still allowed to sue Big Tobacco companies individually. There were about 700,000 class members in the Engle suit. Several of these class members have already sued successfully in Florida courts, winning more than $500 million in verdicts.

Mesothelioma Victim Receives $18 Million from Union Carbide


In a similar case in California, a man diagnosed with mesothelioma was awarded $18 million. The victim, Bobbie Izell, was exposed to asbestos while working with joint compounds made by Hamilton Materials. The asbestos was supplied by Union Carbide, which attempted to reverse the multi-million dollar award on appeal. The California appellate court denied this attempt, stating the Union Carbide's "highly reprehensible" behavior made it liable for the award.

The court continued to say that the severity of Izell's injury - his mesothelioma diagnosis - showed that Union Carbide acted with deplorable indifference to the health and safety of others. They based these opinions off the company's internal documents on asbestos, some dating back to the 1960s. In those reports, it is clear that Union knew that even low levels of asbestos exposure could cause mesothelioma, and that it was purposefully choosing not to warn consumers of these dangers.

The company admitted that, any admission of warning of the risk of cancer would have ruined its asbestos business. Evidence like this, combined with medical expert testimony, was enough to establish a reasonably probability that exposure to asbestos provided by Union Carbide contributed to Izell's mesothelioma. As stated, he worked at Hamiton Materials for several decades with joint compounds, which are known to contain asbestos.

Izell worked as a cement contractor and general contractor building homes in the Los Angeles are until his retirement in 1994. The $14 million damage award was meant to penalize Union Carbide $1 million for every year it continued to sell asbestos after the 1967 memo mentioned above.

Libby, MT W.R. Grace Employees Plan Asbestos Lawsuit


Another asbestos supplier facing liability for exposure, W.R. Grace, is facing a similar lawsuit filed by two of its former employees. The workers are planning to sue W.R. Grace and its insurance company, Maryland Casualty Company, over the illnesses they developed from asbestos exposure. That exposure occurred in now-infamous Libby, Montana, which has been particularly devastated by the long-term effects of asbestos exposure.

W.R. Grace owned and operated an asbestos mine and mill site in Libby for several decades, despite the company's knowledge that asbestos was fatally dangerous. The mine has been closed for over twenty years, however, the residents of Libby continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other fatal illnesses.

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Cancer Drug Costs Brought to National Attention

October 10, 2014

6025359063_81a0b67b4c_b.jpgNearly everyone in the United States has been affected by a cancer diagnosis, and those who have helped a family member fight cancer know how the cost of the drugs alone can be devastating. The Pintas & Mullins Law Firm has been representing clients fighting cancer for many years, which has given us a unique look into the reality of paying for cancer treatment while battling a catastrophic illness. Here, we detail the personal effects of cancer treatment and the pharmaceutical industry's role in this issue.

We rely on lifesaving drugs particularly in cancer treatment because most funding pours into pharmaceutical developments and studies. The costs, however, are egregious: the average drug is about $100,000 per year. This is on top of other treatment types, such as radiation, surgery, and other potential drugs. This issue was recently profiled on 60 Minutes by journalist Lesley Stahl. Throughout the program Stahl interviewed doctors at world renowned cancer centers along with lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry.

The program highlighted the significant burden these costs are for patients and their families, including the increasing rate of bankruptcy caused by cancer treatment - in fact, it is one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy. The tern 'financial toxicity' is widely used now to refer to this bankruptcy phenomenon, which many experts consider "unreasonable, unsustainable, and immoral."

One of the doctors interviewed prominent American doctors who are actively revolting against the rising drug prices. Among them is Dr. Saltz, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Dr. Saltz went to the forefront of the fight against rising cancer drug costs in 2012, after Zaltrap was introduced to treat colon cancer. Zaltrap is remarkably similar to the drug Avastin, but it costs more than twice Avastin, at more than $11,000 per month.

Doctors at Sloan Kettering rejected Zaltrap because of its inflated price, an unprecedented move among cancer centers. Taking it one step further, they also wrote about their decision in the New York Times; after it was published, the price of Zaltrap dropped more than half. This was irrefutable proof that pricing is falsely inflated.

Drug companies state that it costs them $1 billion to develop new cancer drugs, and the high prices reflect the price of these technologies. The American drug pricing system is exclusively dictated by drug companies, who attempt to pander responsibility off to insurance companies.

Whomever is to blame, it boils down to one choice for patients: either you pay the incredibly costs, possibly putting your family into bankruptcy, or you die. In a revolt against this, nearly 120 of the world's leading leukemia doctors signed an article regarding the exorbitantly high prices of drugs that could add significant lengths of time to patients' lives, if only they could afford them.

A particularly egregious example is Gleevec, used to treat leukemia, which is considered one of the best cancer drugs ever. It allows patients to live their normal lives and extends lives for years, however, the price for Gleevec has tripled since 2001. It now costs $92,000 per year, and brings in billions of dollars in salves every year to its manufacruter, Novartis. Novartis has been raising the prices on its older drugs habitually, to cover the "investments needed to continue to innovate."

What Can Be Done


Most experts agree that the one factor that can and should be immediately changed are the laws regarding Medicare drug pricing. Currently, Medicare pays the exact same amount the drug companies charge wholesale, and no negotiations for lower pricing is permissible. This is a law unique to the United States - every other country allows for negotiations, and is why drug prices are 50 to 80% lower in every other country in the world for the same drug.

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Lung Cancer Patients Turn to E-Cigarettes

September 22, 2014

why-e-cigarettes-3.jpgA study by the American Cancer Society concluded with some interesting findings regarding patients diagnosed with lung cancer and e-cigarette usage. Researchers noted that e-cigarette usage is on the rise, and cancer patients who used e-cigarettes were more dependent on nicotine and less likely to quit smoking completely than those who smoked regular cigarettes. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail this study further and explain legal options for cancer patients.

E-cigarettes are frequently touted for curbing the adverse effects of smoking and for being less addictive. The reality behind these statements is highly debated, and studies are just starting to be conducted on these products. This most recent project analyzed more than 1,000 cancer patients who were enrolled in a tobacco treatment program.

Nearly 40% of patients in the study used primarily e-cigarettes, and researchers noted that these patients had more previous quitting attempts and were more likely to be diagnosed with lung, neck or head cancers than patients smoking regular cigarettes. Like in the general population, e-cigarette usage among cancer patients is increasing considerably.

With fruity flavors and suspicious marketing practices, e-cigarettes manufacturers are forcefully targeting minors, and it seems to be working. In 2013 the CDC stated that the number of high school students who have tried e-cigarettes more than doubled between 2011 and 2012 alone. In response to their gaining popularity, the FDA recently proposed a set of guidelines for e-cigarettes. Among its recommendations, the FDA will not allow minors to buy e-cigarettes and other new tobacco products to minors.

It's not only high school students at risk. Poison centers throughout the U.S. are noticing an uptick in nicotine poisoning emergencies in small children - there were 215 such reports in February of this year. Some of the most severe health consequences associated with e-cigarettes includes:

• Pneumonia
• Congestive heart failure
• Seizures
• High blood pressure

Legal Options


Although there have not yet been any lawsuits filed by patients injured by e-cigarettes, several states have brought action against manufacturers for selling to minors or practicing unethical advertising. For example, Oregon recently filed lawsuits against two e-cigarette manufacturers, causing the two companies to completely stop selling their products in that state.

A similar lawsuit in California accused Sottera, an e-cigarette manufacturer, of illegally marketing to minors, touting them as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes, and advertising the products as aids to help stop smoking. In that settlement, Sottera agreed to stop these marketing practices and to discontinue sales of flavored cartridges.

That being said, the adverse health effects listed above are quite serious, and may be grounds for an injury lawsuits. If a child accidentally ingests nicotine solutions used in e-cigarettes, an injury lawsuit may be filed as well. The active ingredients in these nicotine solutions is much the same as those found in cigarettes and nicotine patches, and a teaspoon is enough to kill a small child.

Despite this and the FDA's efforts, e-cigarettes remain unregulated and are not required to have child-proof parts. Several national and international health organizations are attempting to tackle this new trend, and the FDA is expected to bring e-cigarettes under its authority soon. These products have not been fully studies, so the long-term risks and benefits are completely unknown.

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Asbestos and Its Cancers

September 17, 2014

danger-asbestos-hazard-1.jpgThe illness most commonly associated with asbestos is mesothelioma, which is cancer that develops in the thin layer of tissue that lines internal organs like the lungs, stomach or heart. Mesothelioma most commonly affects the lungs and is frequently confused with lung cancer, as the symptoms are very similar. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail the cancers and illnesses caused by asbestos to help those suffering find legal recourse.

Head and neck cancers - such as pharyngeal, esophageal, throat, and thyroid cancers - can also be caused by exposure to asbestos. Men are about three times more likely to develop these types of cancers than women, and most cases occur in men over the age of 50. As with most cancers, survival largely depends on the stage at diagnosis.

There are many studies and articles that examine the association between asbestos and head and neck cancers. Among these studies the strongest evidence of this association comes from those who work with insulation. This is not surprising - insulation is the largest source of asbestos exposure in workers throughout the 20th century. Insulation is used in homes, ships, cars, manufacturing facilities, and buildings of all types, and asbestos was used in all types of insulation until around the 1970s; in fact, insulation workers were often referred to as asbestos workers.

Although asbestos was banned in the 1970s due to its clear and devastating health consequences, the asbestos industry lobbied heavily in Congress and the medical community to lift the ban. In 1991, the EPA agreed to lift the asbestos ban, allowing companies to use it in products as long as there was less than 1% of asbestos in the final product.

The problem with this is that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma affects victims of all types, it does not necessarily depend on how long or how much you were exposed to asbestos - anyone can develop mesothelioma, even those who were exposed briefly and minimally. It is a disease unique to each person: some people are exposed to asbestos for many years and never develop mesothelioma, while others cannot ever remember being exposed and are diagnosed decades later.

Risk Factors


Most of these studies do find a joint effect between asbestos exposure, smoking, and head and neck cancer. Regardless of exposure amount or duration, those who are exposed to asbestos and smoke are far more likely to develop the cancer than people exposed who never smoked.

Additionally, those who were previously diagnosed with any type of respiratory disease are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer. The three diseases most strongly associated with lung cancer were pneumonia, bronchitis, and emphysema. Fortunately, tuberculosis and asthma were not associated with lung cancer risk.

These diseases are medically defined under an umbrella term, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. As any other lung disease, the leading risk factor for COPD is smoking, followed by air pollution, second-hand smoke, dust, and chemical exposure. Other risk factors for COPD include obesity, high blood pressure, family history and high sodium intake.

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Asbestos and Autoimmune Disease

August 14, 2014

The grave health risks of asbestos exposure have been known and documented since the 1930s, though not publically until the mid-1970s and even later in some parts of the world. Lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and other fatal lung conditions are definitively and irrefutably linked to asbestos exposure. Now, esteemed medical researchers are linking certain kinds of autoimmune disease to asbestos. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explore these new findings on how the immune system responds to asbestos.

danger-asbestos.jpg Autoimmune disorders can occur in anyone and can be caused by anything from genetics to environmental factors, though exact causes are often unknown. These disorders are characterized by the body's inability to distinguish between healthy tissues and harmful antigens, thus compromising the immune system. Our immune systems are made up primarily of white blood cells, which protect against antigens such as asbestos, bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

Healthy immune systems produce antibodies to destroy antigens - those with autoimmune disorders are unable to distinguish between the two, so the antigens destroy all tissue, healthy or not. An autoimmune disorder can affect any part of the body, including the brain, muscles, skin, or lungs, with an array of consequences, such as changes in organ function, abnormal growth, or slow destruction.

Autoimmunity Development Caused by Asbestos


There are about seven different types of asbestos fibers, some much more dangerous than others. One of these strains, known as amphibole asbestos, has a particularly destructive effect on the immune system; chrysotile asbestos, on the other hand, is most associated with cancer development.

Amphibole asbestos was mined heavily in the small Montana town of Libby for over half a century. As a result, residents of the town have been slowly dying of lung cancer and asbestos-related illnesses, even if they were not work in the mine. The town has come to be known for this tragic history, a sort of relic of how devastating the substance is, capable of ravaging entire communities.

Medical experts have noted that the amphibole asbestos in Libby is associated with the activation of autoantibodies in those exposed. Specifically, amphibole induces a response from the Th-17 protein, which is implicated in many other diseases like lupus, arthritis, and systemic sclerosis.

Libby, Montana has become a target for large-scale studies on asbestos exposure. In 2000, the CDC conducted a screening program in the town in an attempt to quantify the health consequences. More than 7,000 residents took part, answering questions related to their exposure. Nearly 500 residents - or about 7% of the population - reported having been diagnosed with either lupus, systemic sclerosis, or arthritis.

In the general population the likelihood that someone would be diagnosed with one of these three ailments in less than 1%. The high rates in Libby led CDC researchers to collect serum samples from residents, comparing their autoantibodies with control subjects in a different Montana town with no history of asbestos presence. In their findings, which were recently published in *Environmental Health Perspectives, the prevalence of autoantibodies was nearly 30% higher than in the control subjects, and the intensity of these antibodies were also significantly higher. Furthermore, researchers found that those who had multiple exposures to amphibole asbestos were four times more likely to be diagnosed with lupus.

Studies in Libby continue to be conducted: most recently, experts have started focusing on residents who have developed unusual and serious progressive pulmonary illnesses. Many of these patients eventually die of infections, lose lung functioning completely, and endure terrible pain. Researchers believe that the amphibole asbestos produce autoantibodies that scar the tissue surrounding the lungs, causing them to harden and rendering them unable to function. They are considering this a new type of autoimmune disease, working to officially classify it as such.

The asbestos mine in Libby was run by a company called W.R. Grace. The company's internal documents note that more than 9.7 billion pound s of asbestos-containing ore was mined from the town between 1960 and 1990, shipping all over the U.S. and Canada. Asbestos was then stripped from the ore to be used in dozens of products, such as brake pads and building insulation.

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Lung Cancer Victim Wins Million-Dollar Tobacco Lawsuit

August 6, 2014

55661780_801ee71b32_o.jpgThe widow of a long-time smoker recently won a $4 million jury verdict in California, after she sued Lorillard Tobacco Company for his death. Her husband died in 1998, from lung cancer, after smoking Newports for several decades. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are happy to report on this verdict, as we help our own lung cancer clients gain justice.

The plaintiff in this California case argued that Lorillard Tobacco negligently designed Newport cigarettes, which was a key factor in her husband, William Major's, diagnosis and consequent death. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, and the jury ultimately decided that Lolliard was about 20% responsible for his death.

The jury concluded that Major himself was responsible for half of the harm done to him. The remaining 50% of blame was placed on the defending tobacco companies. Major's widow also sued two other major tobacco companies: R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. Those companies settled out of court, however, agreeing to 33% of the responsibility for his death.

Major's widow filed the lawsuit in 1999, one year after her husband died at age 55. She claimed that Lorillard's Newport cigarettes were specifically designed to encourage addiction to nicotine, and that its additives, such as menthol, increased this addictiveness. She argued that Newport menthols were killing far more people than other types of cigarettes because Lorillard chose to include enhanced nicotine delivery instead of less-lethal designs.

The jury in her case agreed that Lorillard's design of Newports did not outweigh its benefits, and that Major's family lost more than $3 million in support and benefits from his premature death. They additionally awarded his widow $15 million for past and future non-economic damages, including suffering and loss of love.

Juries Get It Right


R.J. Reynolds was recently hit with an unprecedented $23.6 billion verdict in a similar Florida case, which concluded this July. The plaintiffs in that care are the surviving wife and son of a man, Michael Johnson, who died of lung cancer when he was just 36-years-old. His wife and son sued R.J. Reynolds, claiming that the company was negligent in failing to inform its consumers that nicotine was addictive and cancer-causing.

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Lung Cancer Victim Wins Million-Dollar Tobacco Lawsuit

August 6, 2014

55661780_801ee71b32_o.jpgThe widow of a long-time smoker recently won a $4 million jury verdict in California, after she sued Lorillard Tobacco Company for his death. Her husband died in 1998, from lung cancer, after smoking Newports for several decades. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are happy to report on this verdict, as we help our own lung cancer clients gain justice.

The plaintiff in this California case argued that Lorillard Tobacco negligently designed Newport cigarettes, which was a key factor in her husband, William Major's, diagnosis and consequent death. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, and the jury ultimately decided that Lolliard was about 20% responsible for his death.

The jury concluded that Major himself was responsible for half of the harm done to him. The remaining 50% of blame was placed on the defending tobacco companies. Major's widow also sued two other major tobacco companies: R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. Those companies settled out of court, however, agreeing to 33% of the responsibility for his death.

Major's widow filed the lawsuit in 1999, one year after her husband died at age 55. She claimed that Lorillard's Newport cigarettes were specifically designed to encourage addiction to nicotine, and that its additives, such as menthol, increased this addictiveness. She argued that Newport menthols were killing far more people than other types of cigarettes because Lorillard chose to include enhanced nicotine delivery instead of less-lethal designs.

The jury in her case agreed that Lorillard's design of Newports did not outweigh its benefits, and that Major's family lost more than $3 million in support and benefits from his premature death. They additionally awarded his widow $15 million for past and future non-economic damages, including suffering and loss of love.

Juries Get It Right


R.J. Reynolds was recently hit with an unprecedented $23.6 billion verdict in a similar Florida case, which concluded this July. The plaintiffs in that care are the surviving wife and son of a man, Michael Johnson, who died of lung cancer when he was just 36-years-old. His wife and son sued R.J. Reynolds, claiming that the company was negligent in failing to inform its consumers that nicotine was addictive and cancer-causing.

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Asbestos Exposure Lawsuit Ends in $90 Million to Plaintiffs

July 10, 2014

gavel-8.jpgMesothelioma is a rare and extremely fatal form of cancer that can only be caused by exposure to asbestos. Recently, eleven families in New Jersey banded together because of a common threat that bound them: losing a loved one to mesothelioma. These families consequently filed a lawsuit against the asbestos companies that exposed their loved ones, ultimately winning $90 million. Asbestos exposure lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are happy to summarize this case, which is a great example of justice won.

The lawsuit was filed by family members of eleven people who died from mesothelioma, either from first- or second-hand asbestos exposure. Second-hand, or take home asbestos exposure is when someone who is employed at a place that uses asbestos tracks the asbestos home with them on their work clothing. Asbestos is a white, fiber-like mineral that can easily stick to jackets, boots and other clothes. When inhaled, the asbestos fibers can cause cancer to form and grow in the lungs.

Many of the eleven victims who succumbed to mesothelioma worked at the John Manville Company, a notorious perpetrator of exposing workers to asbestos, while the others were the loved ones of these workers, who were exposed second-hand. One of the take home asbestos victims, Deborah Ann, died when she was just 49 years old.

Asbestos exposure is generally defined as at least two weeks of constant contact with asbestos. Many people, particularly in the baby boomer generation, have held jobs at asbestos plants for several decades. Statistically, about one in every 20 people who have been exposed will develop mesothelioma, however, the length of time from initial exposure to cancer diagnosis is very long.

A latency period is the amount of time between initial asbestos exposure and when a doctor definitively diagnoses the person with mesothelioma. One of the biggest reasons mesothelioma is so extraordinarily fatal is because of this latency period, which can be anywhere from 10-50 years. The beginning symptoms of mesothelioma seem harmless - coughing, wheezing, chest pain - that can be mistook for more common ailments, like the common cold or asthma.

Because of this, mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed until it's in its later stages, when treatment or cures are impossible. Unfortunately, most mesothelioma patients live for only about one year after diagnosis.

Who is Most at Risk?


The most obvious occupations most at risk of exposure and cancer development are those working directly with asbestos fibers. There are dozens of other industries and occupations, however, where asbestos exposure is common but goes undetected.

A man in California, for example, recently developed mesothelioma after working for decades as an auto mechanic and plumber. He passed away from the disease in 2013, one year after diagnosis, and his family consequently filed suit against the companies they believed exposed him to asbestos.

The case went to trial, and a jury ultimately awarded the family nearly $11 million in damages, after finding the defendants showed reckless indifference in using asbestos in their products. Another auto mechanic who developed mesothelioma from auto parts containing asbestos recently passed away just before a similar victory. The New York man in this case filed suit against Ford.

The man and his family accused Ford of causing the cancer that lead to his death, by using asbestos in their auto products despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it caused cancer. Not only did Ford know the products were harmful, but it also failed to warn those using these products of the risks, in reckless disregard for consumer safety.

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Lead Smelter Lawsuits Ends in $38 Million for Injured Plaintiffs

June 19, 2014

8572607587_fff58574bf_c.jpgA landmark lawsuit recently concluded in Missouri, focusing on an engineering and construction company, Fluor Corp., and 16 plaintiffs who were gravely injured by the company's lead smelter emissions. Originally, the verdict amounted to $358 million, however an appeals court cut the award to $38 million. Toxic exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case and what it could mean for those similarly exposed to toxic emissions.

U.S. refineries like Fluor Corp. release about release about 37,895 tons of volatile compounds per year. This number is based on companies' own reports, however, and the EPA estimates that actual toxic emissions are actually 10 to 100 times higher.

Lead smelter emissions at the Missouri Fluor plant, specifically, caused immense harm in those who lived in the area. The 16 plaintiffs were all children (born between 1984 and 2000) when they were exposed, suffering permanent cognitive harm such as low IQ, ADHD, and other disorders.

In the court's opinion, the language toward Fluor was deservingly harsh, criticizing the company for failing to curb the plaint's toxic emissions and misleading local residents - and federal regulators - about its highly reprehensible behavior. The court found that the company was knowingly emitting levels of lead that violated national laws and was aware that local children were testing at extremely high blood lead levels, and did nothing about it.

Fluor even went so far as the blame the children's parents for the high levels of lead, along with two other companies - A.T. Massey Coal Co. and Doe Run Investment Holding - which co-owned the plant between 1986 and 1994. The resulting 13-week trial concluded in 2011 with irrefutable evidence that these three companies placed profits over the well-being of children.

Workplace Exposure and Its Consequences


Unfortunately, toxic exposure in the workplace has been common practice since the industrial revolution. Many toxins, including asbestos and radon, are conclusively associated with cancers and mesothelioma. Others, such as lead, are known to cause neurological or cognitive conditions, particularly in children or those exposed over long periods of time.

Community groups in Texas and Louisiana recently settled a lawsuit that will require the EPA to review outdated and inaccurate methods that chemical and refinery companies use to report toxic emission levels. Federal law requires the EPA to review and revise these emission factors and methods every three years - despite this, the agency has not reviewed many of the factors in more than two decades.

This egregious failure is resulting in not only significant underestimation of emissions, but allows hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants to release into local communities. Per the settlement, the EPA must review emissions factors no later than August 2014, and issue final revision guidelines by no later than December 2014.

In children, the effects of lead exposure can be almost immediately evident, or take just a few years to manifest. In other cases, particularly with radon and asbestos exposure, the opposite is true.

Asbestos is a white, fiber-like mineral that was often used in insulation and friction products throughout the 20th century. Without their knowledge or consent, workers in dozens of different industries were exposed to asbestos on-the-job, breathing in these fibers and even carrying asbestos residue home with them on their clothing.

Asbestos is the only known cause of a specific, incurable form of cancer called mesothelioma. Unlike other toxic chemicals, asbestos takes decades (between 20-50 years) to develop and grow into cancer. Because of this long latency time, patients are usually unaware that cancer is forming internally and write off their symptoms (coughing, chest pain) as minor annoyances. Asbestos is also responsible for another serious illness, asbestosis, which can often lead to mesothelioma.

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Supreme Court Confirms $70 Million to Smokers

June 13, 2014

11274667403_ed74250288_o.jpgLung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused - for the eighth time in seven years - to hear appeals from cigarette manufacturers and lung cancer patients' lawsuits. Their refusal lets the $70 million smokers have won thus far stand.

These cases relied on a recent Florida ruling that allowed individual smokers (or their family members if they had passed away) to sue tobacco companies based on prior jury findings. Plaintiffs only had to show that they had become addicted to cigarettes, which caused their illness or consequent death.

As a result of this ruling (called the Engle decision), which was filed in 1994, thousands of individual plaintiffs were able to win their lawsuits against cigarette companies. This most recent "wave" of plaintiffs have won about $64 million in verdicts in total.

The Engle case involved six individuals who made separate claims of illegal behavior by tobacco companies, ranging from dangerous and flawed product designs to blatant fraud. This 1994 case was initially filed as a class action on behalf of all American smokers who had died or become seriously ill from cigarettes, however it was reduced to Florida-only plaintiffs who were only able to file individual suits.

The original Engle lawsuit ended in a jury award of $145 billion, although that award was set aside by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. All evidence and findings produced throughout that case were binding, meaning they could be used in future lawsuits.

After this 2006 decision nearly 10,000 individual lawsuits were filed, much to the dismay of the tobacco companies, who have tried and tried again to have the Engle case reviewed and tossed. The U.S. Supreme Court has simply denied all request and refused to grant any new reviews.

Options for Lung Cancer Patients

Smoking is, overwhelmingly, the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. One of the lesser-known causes of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas. Radon is a radioactive gas that releases from the natural decay of uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil. Unfortunately, radon is odorless, tasteless, and can seep up through the ground and infiltrate pipes, diffuse into the air, or contaminate groundwater.

Although most people are unaware of it, radon is present in nearly all air, and we breathe it in every day. Those who inhale disproportionately higher levels of radon are at risk of developing lung cancer - thousands of people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year even though they never smoked, and were never exposed to second-hand smoke.

Anyone who has ever worked in an underground mine is at an increased risk of radon-caused lung cancer - and basement or first-floor apartments typically have the highest levels of radon, as they are closest to the ground. In fact, radon was first discovered to be a serious health problem when scientists noted that underground workers mining for uranium were dying from lung cancer at extremely high rates. There have also been suggestions that it can lead to leukemia in both children and adults.

Radon Lung Cancer, Then and Now

The legal implications of radon-caused lung cancers have been hotly debated since the mid-1980s (though the dangers of exposure had been known since the 50s). In 1984, a man named Stanley Watras set off alarms at his place of employment - nuclear power plant - for having high levels of radioactive radon on his clothing. Upon testing, investigators found Watras' home had radon levels over 1,000 times greater than the EPA's recommended guidelines.

It was at this point that the dangers of residential radon contamination became a national issue. It quickly became clear that the cancer risk from indoor radon was more than all outdoor pollutants combined. Attorneys specializing in real estate started analyzing the legal implications of radioactive radon exposure in residences, and litigation began soon thereafter.

Despite the clear evidence and annunciation of risk, Americans soon lost interest in the issue of indoor radon. Thus, the responsibility for mitigating the risk has fallen on the federal government; disturbingly but not surprisingly, the government has done little to regulate, control, and inform the public about indoor radon. There have been bills, laws and legislation passed, of course, but the gas is still causing thousands of cancers every year.

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Honeywell Auto Unit to Pay $11 Million for Asbestos Exposure

June 3, 2014

3210259804_7a4eec964e_b.jpgMesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report on a major mesothelioma case against Honeywell International, which recently ended in a $10.9 million award for the plaintiffs. A jury in California awarded the millions to the family of a man who died from mesothelioma, which was caused by products made by Honeywell's automotive unit.

The victim, James Phillips, was an automobile enthusiast who spent much of his time fixing and working on race cars, trucks and heavy equipment. He started working on cars in the 1960s, when asbestos was legally used in thousands of products, including brake pads and other automotive parts.

Phillips frequently used parts made by Bendix, which is owned by Honeywell. The company has been hit with many lawsuits because of these asbestos-containing auto parts. Plaintiffs in these cases, like Philips' family, claim that the products were designed defectively for including asbestos.

Asbestos is a fiber-like material frequently used in friction materials and other products, like insulation and ceiling tiles, that are heat-resistant. The material can become airborne, so those working directly with asbestos or with products containing asbestos can easily breathe them in.

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lodge into the lung tissue and other organ linings. After several years - even decades - the asbestos fibers cause a specific type of cancer to develop. This cancer is known as mesothelioma, which is only caused by asbestos exposure, and is often diagnosed in workers who have worked with or around asbestos fibers.

The jury in California agreed that the automotive parts that Phillips was using were defectively made, and awarded his family $7.4 million in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.

Honeywell is also facing several similar asbestos product liability cases in Pennsylvania, where about a dozen lawsuits were recently consolidated. In addition to Honeywell, the suits name defendants like Pfizer and Owens-Illinois, which produced asbestos-containing products.

These lawsuits were transferred to the court in Pennsylvania because there are currently several parallel cases pending there. These asbestos cases related to exposure that occurred at a steel plant in Northampton County. Consolidating them will make it easier to access witnesses, medical records, and other evidence for trial.

Legal Options for Victims of Mesothelioma

It is important to remember that mesothelioma is only caused by exposure to asbestos, and the company responsible for that exposure can - and should - be held legally liable. Even if the company is now bankrupt, or is owned by another company, it can be named as a defendant in an asbestos exposure lawsuit.

For example, the bankrupt company Garlock Sealing Technologies recently agreed to a $275 million fund, which will resolve all current and future asbestos-related claims. Asbestos funds such as this are quite common - particularly since asbestos was officially banned in the 1980s.

This type of bankruptcy reorganization is intended to provide fair compensation to those seriously injured by asbestos. By providing funding, bankrupt companies are able to resolve legal claims while saving both itself and plaintiffs costs of litigation.

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Experimental Drug Could Benefit Many Mesothelioma Patients

March 27, 2014

industria-novartis_l.jpgA new pharmaceutical manufactured by Novartis, ceritinib, is showing promising results in patients with a rare form of lung cancer. The drug targets a specific gene mutation that is present in about half of mesothelioma patients. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on this new drug and what it could mean for mesothelioma cancer care.

Ceritinib (previously known as LDK378) targets a gene known as ALK, which plays a crucial role in a small subset of lung cancers. It is somewhat similar to Pfizer's drug Xalkori, however recent reports indicate ceritinib is actually 20 times more effective in deactivating the mutated ALK gene. That report was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study examined nearly 115 patients with ALK-mutated lung cancer, including 83 patients who had been previously prescribed to Xalkori and stopped responding to the treatment. At the end of the trial, 56% of patients responded favorably to the new treatment, with 62% of those who had been on Xalkori responded favorably. Notable side effects included dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea.

Unfortunately, patients prescribed to Xalkori typically develop a resistance to the drug, and the same seems to be true for ceritinib. The average amount of time before patients' lung cancer progressed again was about seven months.

Several other drug companies beyond are developing ALK-inhibitor drugs, including Ariad Pharmaceuticals and Chugai Pharmaceutical, which is based in Japan, and is partnering with Roche Holding. Pfizer is also in the midst of making a follow-up drug to Xalkori, which was approved in 2011. At the time, Xalkori was a milestone in lung cancer pharmaceutical development because no other drug specifically targeted the ALK gene.

Novartis has already filed for premarket approval for ceritinib to the FDA, which is reviewing the drug under its "breakthrough therapy designation." Drugs in this class are typically experimental, and may be expedited through the approval process due to striking promise in trials and high demand for terminally ill patients. A decision on the drug is expected later in 2014.

Medical researchers believe the next step will be to study and prescribe ceritinib in combination with other targeted treatments. Such drugs could include immunotherapy treatments, which are intended to activate the body's natural immune system to fight tumors.

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Women More Likely Than Ever to Suffer from Asbestos Exposure

March 25, 2014

chinese-factory-1_l.jpgIn the past, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have been predominately diagnosed in men. This is because asbestos exposure occurs most frequently in the workplace, in industries like shipbuilding, automotive repair, and construction. Now, experts are predicting that women will be suffering a larger proportion of asbestos-related illnesses. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins explore how this could be.

Although asbestos is a known human carcinogen, and there has been a global attempt to ban the substance completely, it is still legal to use in the United States. Several attempts were made in the 1970s and 80s to outlaw asbestos from manufacturing, however, the asbestos industry lobbied the government until it gave in. Thanks to the deep pockets of asbestos lobbyists and the EPA's failure to protect the public, asbestos is still used in U.S. manufacturing processes.

Today, the substance is used in the making of roofing and insulation materials, car brakes, automatic transmission components and vinyl floor tiles. Asbestos exposure - in any amount - can lead to debilitating and fatal diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

Why are Women at Risk?

The health effects of asbestos are proven and well-researched; however, the social, psychological, and economic impacts are far less known. Mesothelioma patients are often given less than one year to live, and social isolation is common among families trying to cope. Those in more rural areas are particularly susceptible to isolation, as they have less access to formal support groups and mesothelioma-specific treatment centers.

The reason women are expected to make up a large proportion of asbestos-related disease patients is because of the shift of workforce. As stated, asbestos exposure traditionally occurred in blue-collar jobs, in which employees were predominantly men. Now, as more and more women gain manufacturing jobs, they too are vulnerable to workplace exposure.

Mesothelioma has also been reported in women employed as school teachers, who worked in buildings containing asbestos; in interior designers, who were exposed through spray-on asbestos insulation; and bakers, who were exposed by being around ovens and other heat-resistant products.

Fortunately, overall, women tend to have better prognoses compared to men, meaning that their expected outcomes are slightly better. This is because women tend to respond more favorably to treatments. One recent study concluded that women with mesothelioma lived longer after surgery than their male counterparts (27 months for women, 16 months for men).

At present, most women diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed in 'second-hand' exposure. This type of asbestos exposure occurs when someone works around asbestos and brings home loose fibers on their work clothing (jackets, boots, bags, etc). Those in the family, such as wives or children, are then consequently exposed to the carcinogen, which can ultimately cause asbestos-related illnesses. For the same reason, women working in laundry services could be similarly exposed.

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Pintas & Mullins Applaud Mesothelioma Fighters on Rare Disease Day

February 28, 2014

5478647222_61378d0a56.jpgEach year, the last day of February marks Rare Disease Day, which is recognized and celebrated by more than 70 countries worldwide. This year, the seventh international year of recognition, the slogan is "Join Together for Better Care." Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins join the European Organization for Rare Diseases (EURODIS) and the international medical community in fighting to help those diagnosed with rare disease.

The main objective of establishing a Rare Disease Day is to raise awareness about the real-life impact of rare disease on public health and wellbeing. It is meant to put a human face on rare diseases, to enact change through politicians, policy makers, medical professionals, industry representatives, researchers and countless others. More than 1,000 events take place around the globe every year, with hundreds of thousands of participants hoping to advance research for rare diseases.

In the United States, rare disease research is headed by the National Institute of Health and many of its branches, including the FDA Office of Orphan Product Development and the National Organization for Rare Disorders. The U.S. identifies about 7,000 diseases as "rare," about 80% of which are genetic in origin. About half of all rare diseases affect children, who face severe challenges such as delays in diagnosis or repeated misdiagnosis, lack of support services for family, and psychological burden.

Information and research concerning rare diseases is typically insufficient; Rare Disease Day offers a glimpse of hope to fighters, strengthens their voices, and inspires continued policy actions. A disease is categorized as rare when it affects less than 200,000 American patients at any given time.

Initial misdiagnosis is common, which rings particularly true for mesothelioma, which takes decades to manifest through physical symptoms. Signs of mesothelioma include:

• Pain, swelling or lumps in the torso and abdomen
• Trouble breathing
• Unexplained weight loss

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that usually starts in the lungs, however it can also originate from the tissue that lines the stomach, heart or other organs. It is often mistaken for lung cancer or other respiratory disorders, however, it is markedly different than lung cancer.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is a fiber-like material that was commonly used in pipefitting, insulation and friction products until it was outlawed in the late 1970s. Every patient diagnosed with mesothelioma was, at some point in their life, exposed to asbestos, whether directly or indirectly.

At present, treatment for mesothelioma is the standard line of care for most cancers: a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy or vaccines. There are some clinical trials ongoing to for mesothelioma treatment, however, research remains minimal.

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