Asbestos – an overview of a deadly miracle
Asbestos is a carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) and the only known cause of the deadly cancer mesothelioma, as well as a number of other asbestos-related diseases and disorders. The mineral has been widely used in the construction, shipbuilding, transportation and manufacturing industries for well over 100 years.
The remarkable versatility, resilience and fire resistance of asbestos earned it the nickname of the ‘miracle mineral’ and made it so popular that it has been used in over 3,000 products. Those products include insulation, fireproofing sprays and paints, asbestos-reinforced cements, fire retardant gloves, socks and clothing, vinyl floor coverings, asbestos-laced felt for use in switchboards and electrical fittings, brake linings, blankets and pajamas.
As early as 1897, asbestos was recognized as a health hazard to those who inhaled the dust caused when it is broken and handled, but industries throughout the world continued to use asbestos, often without any attempt to protect their workers from inhaling the deadly dust. By the time the U.S. government officially recognized asbestos as a workplace hazard in 1970, millions of workers, their families and their communities had been exposed to asbestos on a daily basis.
The best-known hazard of asbestos exposure is a cancer called mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining around the lungs, heart, and abdomen. The cancer is caused when someone breathes or swallows asbestos dust and fibers, which lodge in the lungs or stomach lining, where they remain for years before the damage they cause becomes evident. The latency period – the time between exposure to the cancer-causing substance and the appearance of ill effects – for mesothelioma is estimated to be between 15 and 50 years. In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure may also cause asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung cancer and gastrointestinal cancer.
While most cases of mesothelioma result from chronic exposure to asbestos over a long period of time, there are some cases where the exposure was short term. Asbestos damage isn’t confined to those who worked directly with it. Family members of workers who handled asbestos were indirectly exposed to asbestos fibers that workers carried home on their clothing. Residents of cities and towns near asbestos mines and industrial centers that used asbestos in their daily operations were exposed to asbestos, and many of those areas have mesothelioma rates that are many times the national average, even in people who didn’t work in those industries.
It’s estimated that, in the United States alone, 10,000 people die of asbestos-related diseases each year. The average life expectancy of a patient diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma is nine months, and medical care for a family member with mesothelioma for those nine months can cost more than $500,000.
The staggering costs of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, and the clear history of negligence on the part of the asbestos industry, have spawned more lawsuits than nearly any other type of industrial personal injury.
The first known asbestos lawsuit was decided in Massachusetts in 1926, when the Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Board compensated a worker for asbestos-related illness. By 2004, nearly 6% of all personal injury lawsuits filed were mesothelioma lawsuits or other asbestos-related lawsuits. In states where asbestos is mined or where industries that used asbestos heavily were based, those numbers are even higher.
The unique circumstances surrounding mesothelioma and asbestos can make it very difficult to prove who is responsible for the asbestos exposure. Because asbestosis can take up to 40 years to show up, proving responsibility in a mesothelioma lawsuit can mean months of research to track down the asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma lawyers are faced with complexities of law and procedure in cases that sometimes involve defendants in several different states and jurisdictions.
Law firms that specialize in asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits must be expert in laws that are changing and developing even as they frame their cases. The sheer number of mesothelioma lawsuits and the complexities of proving exposure and damage have triggered many states and the United States government to enact special laws dealing with asbestos-related injury cases. A number of states have passed laws that limit the rights of those with mesothelioma to file cases, or extend the statute of limitations for filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. There are various incarnations of Federal law designed to limit how much a plaintiff can recover in damages, and ensure that there is a fund to pay out those damages.
In short, recovering fair compensation for damages in a mesothelioma lawsuit depends on having a mesothelioma law firm on your side. There are many avenues and routes to pursue in an asbestos lawsuit, and choosing the best approach to each case is a matter of experience and knowledge. Railroad workers diagnosed with mesothelioma, for instance, may recover damages under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA). A plaintiff who has been awarded damages for one asbestos-related condition like asbestosis may be able to return to court if they develop malignant mesothelioma at a later date. In some states, a plaintiff may have a better chance of recovering damages as part of a joint action asbestos lawsuit. An experienced mesothelioma lawyer can sort through the complexities of asbestos litigation to determine the best approach for each individual case.
Mesothelioma attorneys at the Williams Kherkher Law Firm have developed an expertise born of decades of experience that can help ensure that each individual client recovers fair compensation for his or her injuries and illnesses. With 30 attorneys and 150 employees on support staff, Williams Kherkher is in a position to work with each client from discovery of the source of exposure to negotiation of a settlement. We have helped thousands of clients with asbestos-related diseases in over 20 years of practice.
If you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, it’s important to contact an experienced mesothelioma law firm about your rights under the changing laws. As Congress and the insurance companies work to tighten restrictions and make it harder to recover your medical expenses, an experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help make sure you get the compensation and support to which your family is entitled.