Everything You Need to Know About Asbestos Exposure Lawsuits
Exposure to asbestos at work, home, or in public buildings is known to cause lung disease and cancer.1 If a loved one or you have had long-term exposure to asbestos or short term exposure to high levels of these fine fibers, you may want to consult with an asbestos injury lawyer to fully understand your legal rights.
Cancer caused by asbestos is a medical fact, and filing a lawsuit may allow you to recover expenses and receive compensation for lost wages or pain and suffering. Let’s look at the specifics of asbestos exposure lawsuits, who are at risk of exposure, and who may be held legally responsible for asbestos-related diseases.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is mined from the earth. Examined under a microscope, asbestos consists of long thin fibers that are easily dislodged from a surface and which float in the air. Even with no visible dust, you could still be inhaling asbestos if it exists in the environment around you.
Especially with long-term exposure, breathing asbestos allows these fibers to build up in the lungs, causing scarring, inflammation, and difficulty breathing. Asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing these diseases:2
- Asbestosis – A condition where the scarring in the lungs makes breathing difficult.
- Mesothelioma – A cancer of the lining of the lungs, which sometimes also occurs in the abdomen.
- Lung cancer – A variety of other cancers of the lung may develop following asbestos exposure.
- Pleural plaques – Hard structures or thickened tissues that develop in the lungs and diaphragm.
- Pleural effusion – Commonly known as “water on the lungs,” PE is an accumulation of fluid in the layers of tissue that surround the lungs.
Where Is Asbestos Exposure Likely to Occur?
Asbestos came into heavy use during the industrial revolution, due to its resistance to heat, water, chemicals, and electrical current. It was heavily used in the construction, automobile manufacture, electrical materials, and chemical industries. Asbestos was widely used as insulation and wiring coating in public buildings, schools, and homes. The U.S. military commonly used asbestos as a fire prevention material as well.
Some limited uses of asbestos are still allowed today, as no other safer material has been found for certain applications. While asbestos exposure has been regulated by OSHA since 1971, it is still very possible to be exposed to asbestos where you live and work, and some diseases related to asbestos can take years or even decades to develop.2
Who Is at Risk of Asbestos-Related Diseases?
Occupational exposure is known to cause disease, but secondhand exposure by family members is also a known risk factor.3 If you or a family member worked in one of these jobs, you may both have been exposed to asbestos:
- Mining in areas where asbestos occurs naturally underground
- Millwork, heating system maintenance, and shipyard work
- Manufacturing jobs, especially prior to 1971
- Electricians and power grid construction or maintenance
- Military assignments involving HVAC, fire prevention, electronics, or living quarters where asbestos was present
- Railroad, aircraft, and auto mechanics
- Construction, demolition, or asbestos removal
Can You Sue for Being Exposed to Asbestos?
There are a number of factors that will determine if you can successfully sue for damages as a result of asbestos exposure. Talking to an asbestos injury lawyer will help you determine if an asbestos lawsuit is a viable option for you and your family. Some of these considerations include:
- Establishing that an injury or wrongful death occurred. In order to sue for damages, you or your loved one must have been injured or developed a disease as a result of asbestos exposure.
- Determining which company or organization allowed the injured person to be exposed and if they are responsible for compensation.
- The statute of limitations must not have expired. The time limit to file an asbestos exposure lawsuit varies by state and the type of claim filed.
Who Can Be Sued for Asbestos Exposure?
The types of companies and organizations that might be held liable for damages caused by asbestos exposure are as wide and varied as the products which contain asbestos. Successful suits have been filed against:
- Companies who have gone bankrupt and that manufactured items containing asbestos may have since gone under, but many have established trust funds for those who were injured and pay out to valid claims against them.
- Product manufacturers who built products like flooring, roofing, siding, sealants, insulation, turbines, or other equipment without adequate warning of the dangers to workers or consumers.
- Asbestos mining and raw material suppliers who produced the dangerous materials to which a family member or you were exposed.
- Product suppliers who did not build the products but sold and distributed them to individuals, retail stores, military contracts, and job sites.
- Contractors and installers that used products and materials which contained asbestos but failed to protect their workers or the public from exposure.
- Facility owners who may have been negligent in protecting employees, visitors, or residents from exposure to asbestos in their buildings, often by failing to remove or improperly removing asbestos.
In many cases, if you were exposed to asbestos on the job and the company is still operating, you will need to file a workers’ compensation claim rather than a personal injury lawsuit, although family members injured through secondhand exposure may be able to file a civil suit against your employer.
What Types of Compensation Are Paid to Victims of Asbestos Exposure?
Of course, this will depend on the facts of your case and what type of suit you and your attorney choose to file, but in general:
- If a trust fund has already been set up by a company, it will usually pay a set amount of money to all eligible victims who file. Sometimes that amount varies, based on the medical diagnosis, with mesothelioma claims receiving the most. Your compensation will be limited to that amount and might not fully cover medical expenses but may be relatively easy to claim.
- In a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit filed against a company not protected by bankruptcy, you may also be eligible for compensatory damages. These include payments for pain and suffering, lost wages, and even loss of consortium, which is losing the benefits of a full relationship with your loved one. Compensatory damages are usually only awarded when the defendant acted intentionally or with “reckless disregard” for safety and is found negligent.
Is Your Family Impacted by Asbestos Exposure?
The diseases caused by asbestos exposure are deeply debilitating and damaging to entire families. Dealing with cancer caused by asbestos often means a long battle with big medical bills and a difficult future ahead. It may also be true that if one family member has a disease caused by exposure, others may develop symptoms much later from secondhand exposure.
Working with an experienced asbestos injury lawyer will help you and your loved ones have the peace of mind that all the right steps were taken to protect your rights and compensate as much of your loss as possible. With many possible parties sharing responsibility for your injuries across many states, consulting with the right team of personal injury attorneys can make a very real difference in the outcome.
If a family member or you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer after exposure to asbestos, contact us at Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. There may be no more important time to protect your ability to file a lawsuit—not only for yourself but for those who may have shared your risk while sharing your home.