The asbestos lawsuits are one of the longest running series of product liability lawsuits in existence in this country. Cases in this area span almost 50 years dating back to the first major victory for a plaintiff in this case. Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that had been used in building in this country for many years notwithstanding the common knowledge that it was dangerous and could make people sick. Millions of people were exposed to the substance. Those who have been exposed to asbestos are at risk for developing mesothelioma, which is an aggressive and regularly fatal form of lung cancer. If you have been exposed to asbestos and have shown symptoms of mesothelioma, it is vital that you contact a lawyer immediately as the statute of limitations may impact your ability to receive compensation.
From the turn of the twentieth century, asbestos was commonly used. In World War II, it was prominently featured in shipbuilding. Asbestos’ flexible properties made it a useful product in buildings and machinery. It was extensively used as insulation, especially for pipes. Demand for asbestos peaked in the 1970s before the documented health problems that it causes led to its being phased out of regular use.
Not only has asbestos contaminated buildings, but its presence in the ground has also tainted products that are made with talc, due the asbestos’ proximity to talc while in the ground. Even crayons have been found to include small amounts of asbestos. In addition, asbestos was also contained in certain automotive products as well as cement.
The first study showing asbestos could be linked to cancer was in the 1930s. The first known effects of asbestos were seen in 1933, when one in every three workers in an asbestos factory were made sick. The first known case of mesothelioma caused by asbestos was reported in 1953. Soon, it was widely accepted that asbestos was dangerous and could have a harmful effect on those who have been exposed to it.
Even though the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma was well-established, asbestos manufacturers ignored the warnings and continued to sell their product. This placed millions of additional people at risk. It is estimated that up to 100 million people were exposed to asbestos. By the early 2000s, there were approximately 2,500 new cases of mesothelioma each year.
Despite the known causation of health effects from asbestos, early personal injury claims were unsuccessful. In 1969, the first case was won by a U.S. plaintiff who contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. This verdict was upheld on appeal. The plaintiff had been working as an industrial insulation worker for over 30 years and was exposed to asbestos the entire time. Even though the plaintiff had suspected that asbestos was dangerous, he continued to breathe it because he had not been warned of the exact danger. The plaintiff contracted mesothelioma and died before the case went to trial. In the decision, the court found that asbestos was unreasonable dangerous and the plaintiff should have been warned of the dangers.
In another key holding for future asbestos litigation, the court held that the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff first suffers the effects of exposure to asbestos as opposed to when they were actually exposed. Other states changed their laws to achieve the same result.
This successful product liability case was the trailblazer for the tens of thousands of asbestos cases that have been filed since then. The asbestos liability for some of the companies that manufactured the product has been so high that many companies have gone bankrupt. For example, Johns Manville declared Chapter 11 in 1982 while facing an unprecedented amount of asbestos liability. Many companies that have gone bankrupt have established asbestos bankruptcy trusts to settle claims relating to asbestos. In 2011, there were approximately 60 trusts established with total assets of over $37 billion. When there are trusts, there are specialized procedures that claimants follow in order to submit their claim and have it processed.
In the event that a claimant needs to file suit in order to achieve a recovery, many of the asbestos cases have been consolidated into multi-district litigation. This litigation is in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and has been open for over 20 years. Given the differences in individual’s exposure to asbestos, it is difficult to file a class action suit since the commonality of injury is lacking.
There are many different potential defendants in an asbestos-related claim. The obvious defendant is the manufacturer of the asbestos. In addition, suits have been filed against nearly any entity that has had anything to do with asbestos. For example, a bank who financed a construction project where asbestos was installed has been named as a defendant. Retailers of asbestos-related products have also been sued. As with any product liability case, the range of prospective defendants is a wide one. Anyone who has touched asbestos in the stream of commerce or had anything to do with its installation in any way is a possible defendant. Once liability is established, all of the defendants that are culpable are jointly and severally liable and they must fight each other to figure out who pays what share.
Although the EPA unsuccessfully tried to ban the use of asbestos, the product’s utilization is not tightly controlled and limited. Nonetheless, mesothelioma lawsuits are still being filed even though asbestos use began to be phased out many years ago. This is because claimants are still getting sick from exposure that happened years ago and do not have to actually bring a claim until they manifest symptoms. Even though this product liability litigation has been around for nearly 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation has been paid, liability in some of these cases is still hotly contested at trial.
When you contact a lawyer to discuss your possible asbestos-related claim, you can receive an assessment of your chances to receive compensation for your exposure to the hazardous substance. While there is no guarantee of any recovery, you may be entitled to a substantial recovery if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of your exposure to asbestos.