Articles Posted in Mesothelioma

A Mississippi man was awarded a staggering $322 million verdict for pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, and future medical expenses arising from asbestosis which he now suffers from after working many years in a Mississippi oil field.

Asbestosis is one of the two serious conditions that can develop following exposure to asbestos, the other being mesothelioma cancer. Absestosis is an extremely serious disease of the lungs which occurs after breathing in asbestos fibers which become lodged in the lung tissue. The fibers cause inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue which results in difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. The Plaintiff in this case, Thomas Brown, Jr., is on 24 hour oxygen because of his asbestosis.

The defendants in this case were Chevron Phillips Chemical and Union Carbide Corporation, both of whom developed and marketed asbestos products for decades. Despite knowledge that their product was extremely harmful they continued to market and sell the product into the 1980’s. The jury found that the companies had negligently designed their products and failed to supply adequate warnings to users. Asbestos cases are one of the clearest examples of a company putting profits before people and this Mississippi jury has evened the score by punishing the company for their wrongdoing. I applaud the men and women of that jury for their brave decision.

I came across an interesting lawsuit out of Texas. Apparently, the family of a deceased woman, Claudia Headley, is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against several asbestos manufacturers after contracting mesothelioma and passing away in 2008. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is almost always caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers.

The woman did not work directly with any asbestos materials, but washed the clothes of her father, husband, and son, all of whom worked in an oil refinery. For roughly forty years, Ms. Headley suffered second hand exposure to asbestos because the asbestos dust covered her family’s clothes. It was enough exposure to cause her mesothelioma.

One difficulty that the plaintiffs will run into is showing that Ms. Headley’s death was foreseeable. Asbestos manufacturers are liable to the workers who died from breathing in their dangerous product because it was known and kept secret for decades that asbestos could cause cancer. It is a bit of a jump, however, to say that it was foreseeable that even washing the laundry of men exposed to asbestos could be sufficient to cause mesothelioma. It is a bit like a non-smoker suing a tobacco company for lung cancer caused by second hand smoke. If the defendant can prove that her death was not foreseeable, they may be able to escape liability.

Mesothelioma and Asbestosis are both very serious conditions which can only be caused by direct contact with asbestos. Thousands of people are diagnosed every year with mesothelioma or asbestosis due to exposure to asbestos sometimes decades earlier.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a protective lining over most of our organs. The most common site for this cancer to develop is in the lungs or abdominal cavity. Unlike other lung cancers, mesothelioma does not have any relation to smoking, but smoking does increase the risk of asbestos related cancers. A doctor may suspect mesothelioma and then confirm with a tissue biopsy.

Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. Victims exposed to asbestos were unaware that they were breathing in very small fibers of asbestos. These fibers become trapped in the lungs and can not be expelled. The body will attack these foreign fibers in the body, but in so doing cause substantial damage to the lungs. Over time this condition leads to asbestosis.

I first came across this law review article in the Law Professors blog which included an abstract and I decided I had to read the article.   Professors Ariel Porat and Alex Stein have written a compelling argument supporting liability for future harm in tort cases.

Historically, a plaintiff could not be compensated for the “chance” that illness might develop at a later time.  A small example of this is a plaintiff who suffers a concussion in an auto accident.   Obviously, the plaintiff will be compensated for the head injury, but it is well documented that concussions can occur more easily, and with greater severity, after the first one is suffered.  The plaintiff, however, will not be compensated for the increased likelihood that he or she will suffer concussions in the future.

Professors Porat and Stein begin their argument with a relatively recent Supreme Court case, Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Ayres.  The plaintiff in that suit contracted asbestosis from exposure to asbestos along the railway.  The plaintiff suffered emotional distress because he was aware that 1 in 10 people suffering from asbestosis eventually develop mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.  Even though the plaintiff had not yet developed mesothelioma, the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, held that the plaintiff was allowed to recover if the distress was proven to be “genuine and serious.”

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