Mesothelioma 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.