Thousands of workers in the greater Washington, D.C. and Baltimore region were exposed, through their occupations, to hazardous asbestos dust. Many of these workers developed respiratory ailments and cancers of the lung and chest, including mesothelioma. Even household members of these workers have occasionally developed mesothelioma because the worker unknowingly exposed his family by carrying toxic asbestos dust home on his clothing. Many of the companies that manufactured and sold the asbestos products routinely failed to warn the workers of the presence of asbestos in their products or the magnitude of the danger it posed, despite having knowledge of the hazard.
Asbestos litigation is a highly specialized field of product liability law, requiring familiarity with the complex medical and industrial hygiene issues that surface in virtually every case. Our lawyers have over 20 years of experience representing the rights of asbestos victims. Contact us so that we can help you and your family get the information you need to make the decisions that will work best for you.
Asbestos is a mineral mined from the earth. Major asbestos deposits are located in Canada, South Africa, Russia, and the United States. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, but asbestos was once mined in Vermont, California, and other states. The three major types of asbestos used commercially in the U.S. were chrysotile (white), amosite (brown), and crocidolite (blue). Exposure to any of these commercial fibers can cause serious illness or death.
Asbestos fibers are very strong and heat resistant. As a result asbestos was used in hundreds of commercial, industrial, and household products, ranging from building materials such as insulation, refractory materials, and fireproofing, to friction products such as brakes and clutches, to household products such as hair dryers and portable heaters.
The use of asbestos is banned in many industrialized nations. And fortunately, many asbestos products are banned in the U.S., including drywall joint compound, spray fireproofing, preformed pipe insulation and block insulation, corrugated paper, rollboard, and flooring felt. Remarkably, however, asbestos use is still permitted in limited applications in the United States. Most asbestos imported into the U.S. today is used in the chlor-alkali industry, a part of the chemical industry that makes chlorine and sodium hydroxide. Some asbestos is also still used in roofing products.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration has stated: “OSHA is aware of no instance in which exposure to a toxic substance has more clearly demonstrated detrimental health effects on humans than has asbestos exposure.” While heavier exposures to asbestos can significantly increase health risks, the National Cancer Institute recognizes that asbestos-related diseases have been found in individuals with only brief exposures to asbestos.
When asbestos products are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air, where they can be inhaled. Once inhaled, the fibers can become trapped in the lung tissue. The three most common types of disease that result from asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a scarring of the lungs that can result in chronic shortness of breath, cough, and lung damage that can occasionally progress to a terminal condition.
Lung cancer can be caused by asbestos exposure by itself, or in conjunction with cigarette smoking, which has a synergistic effect on the development of the tumor.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lining of the lung, chest wall, or peritoneum. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive tumor for which there is no known cure. Surgery or clinical trials may be available for certain patients who qualify. A mesothelioma patient should work carefully with his or her physician to explore possible treatment options.
When a physician suspects a patient may have mesothelioma, the most common question asked of the patient is “Did you ever work with asbestos?” Individuals who worked in the construction trade in the 1960’s through the 1970’s are frequently able to answer this question in the affirmative. Similarly, people who worked in shipyards or served in the Navy can easily recall work with or around asbestos containing materials. However, often people are exposed to asbestos in ways they did not realize. For example, many do-it-yourself homeowners installed drywall in their homes during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Much of the drywall joint compound contained asbestos in that period. Similarly, many people changed their own car brakes, which contained asbestos up until the 1980’s. Other exposures are less obvious, as hundreds of household and building products contained asbestos, often without any warning label alerting the user to the hazard. The lawyers at Brown | Gould | Kiely have represented hundreds of asbestos clients, spanning many different occupations. We have also represented women and children who have suffered from mesothelioma as a result of “take home” exposure from a spouse or family member.
Some of the more common occupational exposures to asbestos occurred in the following types of employment:
The time limit to file a law suit, called a “statute of limitation”, can depend on several factors, including, but not limited to, the state in which you want to file your claim. Each asbestos case has its own statute of limitation, which typically starts to run from the time the injured person knows, or should have known, that his injury was caused by asbestos exposure. It is important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible (whether it’s us or someone else) so that the attorney can determine how much time you have to file your claim.
There is a common misperception that asbestos claims are part of either an ongoing class action lawsuit, or that there was a historic class action and now it is too late to file a claim. There are no asbestos injury class action cases pending, and historical efforts to create a class action have failed. It is not too late to file a claim, provided the claim is brought within the statute of limitations. Each case has its own statute of limitations, meaning the time in which to file the case from the time a person knows or should know that his injury is caused by asbestos exposure.
While there are no asbestos injury class actions, occasionally cases will proceed to court in a consolidated fashion in an effort to promote efficiency. In these consolidations, a handful or large group of cases are bundled together for consideration in front of the same judge and jury.
Over the years, many of the manufacturers of asbestos containing products have filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection (starting with Johns-Manville) as a tool to get out of ongoing liability to asbestos victims. Generally, as part of the bankruptcy reorganization, the Bankruptcy Court requires the company that made the asbestos products, and/or its insurers, to establish a trust fund designed to compensate victims of exposure to that particular company’s asbestos products. Once the company emerges from bankruptcy, as a general rule, it can no longer be sued in court. There is no massive, single fund designed to compensate all asbestos victims. Congress has tried over the years to implement such a system but all such efforts have failed, either because the companies, the insurers or the victims believed the particular bill at issue was unfair.
The TV commercials tout billions of dollars in trust money available to compensate the victims. Unfortunately, many of the trusts are underfunded. Very few trusts pay 100% of the value of a claim. In order to qualify for virtually any of the trusts, the victim must establish a history of exposure to the particular company’s products at certain jobsites, and supply medical evidence of a specific asbestos-related disease. The compensation available to the victim depends on the disease process. Generally, mesothelioma claims receive the highest compensation levels, then lung cancer cases, then other asbestos-related cancers, and then non-malignant asbestos diseases. The claim may be rejected by the trust for a variety of reasons, and the claimant can then supplement his submission. Certain disputed claims can go to arbitration. Once a claimant is qualified for payment, the victim usually sees a fraction of the expected payout for the claim. This is called the payment percentage of the scheduled value. For example, the Johns-Manville trust currently pays victims about 6 cents on the dollar of the scheduled value. Other trusts offer 10 cents or 20 cents on the dollar of the scheduled value. Even the full scheduled values are generally less than a client would have received if his case was pending in court.
Brown | Gould | Kiely carefully evaluates each potential asbestos case. As an initial matter, the client must demonstrate a verified asbestos-related disease. In some cases, that involves a simple analysis. For example, mesothelioma is a signature disease for which asbestos is essentially the only known cause. Asbestos-related diseases all share something called a latency period. This is the period of time between exposure to asbestos and the development of disease. Most asbestos-related diseases require a 10 year or greater latency period. In fact, the average latency period for development of mesothelioma is between 30 – 40 years. So a person who was exposed to asbestos last year who now has lung cancer cannot attribute the lung cancer to last year’s exposure. A client must also have a credible historic exposure to asbestos. We work hard with clients to explore all possible sources of asbestos exposure that may have contributed to their disease. Sometimes it is hard to recall the events of 30-40 years ago, and often clients don’t realize that certain products or materials they used contained asbestos. Fortunately, we have an extensive database of asbestos-containing products as well as the locations at which asbestos was used in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. We have taken on very difficult cases – cases that other firms would not handle – and turned them into success stories for our clients. We are proud of the fact that the majority of our asbestos cases are referred to us by other attorneys who are aware of our track record.
Even though most commercial asbestos use is prohibited in the United States, and has been for decades, there is still a lot of in-place asbestos found in buildings and homes. If a building was constructed prior to 1980, there is a reasonable possibility that asbestos containing building products were used in some fashion in its construction. Older homes occasionally still have asbestos associated with the heating system, including asbestos found on residential boilers or heating pipes. Landlords and homeowners need to be cautious when performing demolition and renovation work so as to avoid disturbing any in-place asbestos. If you have a question about whether a particular material in your home or building contains asbestos, you should contact a certified asbestos inspector, who can remove a bulk sample of the material and have it tested at a certified lab.
The answer is, it depends on the situation and the facts of your case. We will take the time to discuss the particulars of your case so that you can make the best decision on how to move forward.
We encourage you to get in touch with us to discuss your case or simply to learn more about Brown | Gould | Kiely, our lawyers, or our practice areas. We are happy to schedule a time to talk either by phone or in person to allow us to better get to know one another and see if we can work together.