Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lungs, heart, and/or abdomen. It is caused by the exposure to asbestos fibers, a natural mineral that has been used for centuries due to its durability, heat and chemical resistance. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace and at least 107,000 people die each year globally from occupational exposure to airborne fibers. Similarly, an average of 3,000 Americans develop Mesothelioma each year. During the period from 1930s through the late 1970s, asbestos was incorporated in thousands of consumer products from insulation and other construction material, to car brakes and hair dryers. Its use skyrocketed throughout the United States and the World, putting millions at risk of exposure. Researched revealed that any amount of asbestos exposure, even limited, is considered dangerous. If disturbed and damaged, the asbestos fibers can be released into the air, causing people to accidentally inhale or ingest the microscopic fibers. The minerals then work their way into the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart, causing inflammation and scarring, which eventually develops into mesothelioma tumors or related conditions.
Due to the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma, in 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of asbestos in the United States. As a result, businesses and employers have an obligation to remove asbestos from their products and properties. However, even though the use of asbestos is much more limited, the toxin is still be found in thousands of older homes, buildings and schools built before 1980. Knowing where asbestos can be found is helpful in preventing exposure since there is hardly any way to identify it with the naked eye.
Common Asbestos Products:
- Automotive Parts: brake pads, brake linings, clutch linings, transmission plate.
- Construction Products: insulation, floor tiles, plaster, cement, caulk, adhesives, roofing, shingles, siding.
- Electrical Materials: Boilers, furnaces, wires and cables, generators, heating ducts, valves, pumps, wiring insulation.
- Military Uses: Boiler or engine rooms, military vehicles, Navy ships, barracks.
- Protective and Fireproofing Materials: fire blankets, fire doors, gloves, clothing, weather coating.
- Consumer Products: Baby powder, hair dryers, crockpots, iron rests, ironing board covers, stove mats, fume hoods, fertilizer, potting soil.
Mesothelioma may take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos. If diagnosed, a mesothelioma victim has three (3) years to file a personal injury claim from the time of the diagnosis. Additionally, for persons that died as a result of Mesothelioma, their surviving family members have two (2) years after the death to file a wrongful death claim, according to the North Carolina statute of limitations.
In most cases, asbestos exposure can be traced back to multiple negligent parties. Some parties may include landlords, employers, construction companies, and other businesses. Because of the time it takes to develop, it is encouraged to retain experienced attorneys to work with you to discover which parties are responsible.
For some asbestos manufacturers, trust funds have been established as an option for asbestos victims to recover mesothelioma compensation for their negligence. When one of the manufacturers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, an asbestos bankruptcy trust fund is formed. As part of the proceeding, the company sets up a fund to provide compensation for current and future claims. As of now, there are about 60 active trust funds with over $30 billion available for claimants. For example, the National Gypsum Company, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, filed bankruptcy in 1990 and then established the NGC Bodily Injury Trust in 1993. Since its establishment, the trust has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in claims.
The amount of compensation disbursed to an asbestos victim depends on the type of fund, as well as the specific claim being made. The trust fund administrator will consider medical expenses, lost wages, other treatment-related costs, and pain and suffering caused by the mesothelioma diagnosis. Since, however, the trust funds must have enough available funds for future asbestos claims, it is in the best interest for claimants to seek the advice of experienced legal counsel to determine the best method to recover compensation. The claimant may be able to file claims against multiple asbestos trust funds, or simply file an individual suit against a specific party.
In North Carolina, courts follow the Lohrmann test, as set forth in Lohrmann v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp. (1986). This standard requires plaintiffs to show that exposure to the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in the plaintiff developing Mesothelioma or another asbestos-related medical condition. In particular, this rule requires more than a casual or minimum contact with the product, rather, a successful suit would depend upon “the frequency of the use of the product and the regularity or extent of the plaintiff’s exposure to the defendant’s product.”
In other cases, you may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation. Mesothelioma may be considered a compensable occupational disease within the meaning the Workers’ Compensation Act. N.C. Gen. Stat. §97-53(13). In order to establish a compensable occupational disease under this act, a claimant must show: (1) the disease is characteristic of individuals engaged in the particular trade or occupation in which the claimant is engaged; (2) the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the public generally is equally exposed with those engaged in that particular trade or occupation; and (3) there is a causal relationship between the disease and the claimant’s employment.
For instance, in Robbins v. Wake County Bd. of Educ., the executor of the estate of his deceased wife was awarded compensation by the North Carolina Industrial Commission on the grounds that the executor’s wife contracted Mesothelioma while employed as a secretary and graphic artist at a Wake County facility from 1978 to 1981. Although the Wake County Board of Education appealed the Commission’s decision, in 2002 the Court of Appeals of North Carolina held that the Commission’s findings were sufficiently supported by competent evidence. The evidence showed that the building the decedent worked at contained substantial amounts of asbestos in the ceiling plaster, wall plaster, floor tile, pipe insulation in the boiler room and print shop, and numerous other areas. Thus, the Commission’s award to the estate was upheld.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Mesothelioma, please contact one of our attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC to review your case. Waiting too long may prevent you from obtaining the appropriate compensation you need to cover your medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages associated with this condition. There is no fee for an initial consultation.