Asbestos has been one of the most devastating substances to ever hit the American workforce. Used commonly until the late 1970s in numerous industries, asbestos is now known to cause deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Mesothelioma/asbestos lung cancer could have occurred from virtually any industrial activity, as discussed in detail below. Certain occupations and activities that were at a high risk of exposure include:
- Shipyard Workers
- Navy Sailors
- Commercial Vessel Workers
- Auto Workers
- Boiler workers
- Heavy Equipment Workers
- Plumbers and Pipe Fitters
- Oil Rig Workers
- Railroad Workers
- Power Plant Workers
- Paper Mill Workers
- Steel Mill workers
- Construction Workers
- Demolition workers
At Ward & Barnes, our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys are equipped to handle the most difficult mesothelioma and lung cancer cases. We are ready to help you and your family pursue compensation and we are dedicated to holding accountable the companies responsible for their role in your family's tragedy.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in numerous places throughout the world. There are six different types of asbestos world-wide, each with its unique characteristics and chemical compositions. However, all forms of asbestos are harmful to humans when ingested and carry potentially permanent and life threatening risks. For this reason, all types of asbestos should be avoided and if you've been exposed to any form of asbestos, you should seek medical attention and legal help from our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys immediately.
From the early 1900s until the late 1970s, asbestos was widely used in American industry and products due to its unique characteristics. Asbestos fibers are unusually strong and don't break down or degrade, even under extreme heat and pressure conditions. Asbestos fibers are extraordinarily durable, fire retardant, and operate as an effective insulation product. Because of these characteristics, asbestos was used in a variety of applications, and was known for its versatility. Asbestos was commonly used as insulation on steam pipes and industrial machinery such as boilers, furnaces, pumps, turbines, and valves. Asbestos was also found in the internal components of these pipes and machinery in the form of gaskets and packing. The use of asbestos as an insulator was widespread due to its characteristics, wide availability, and price. Military and commercial vessels contained extensive amounts of insulation and workers working on these ships and those constructing the vessels in the shipyards worked routinely with insulation. Industrial power plants used insulation extensively to protect pipes, boilers, and turbines. Steel mills and paper mills found a variety of applications for insulation. Manufacturing facilities and all buildings with furnace or boiler heating systems used asbestos. The use of asbestos as an insulator touched virtually every American industry.
Asbestos was also commonly used in automobile friction products. Automobile brake and clutch products through the 1970s contained asbestos, as did engine gaskets. Asbestos was also commonly used on commercial trucks and specialized pieces of equipment such as tractors, cranes, bulldozers, and other heavy machinery. Professional and recreational/home mechanics alike were exposed in the process of removing and replacing asbestos friction and engine components.
Asbestos products were also used throughout the construction industry up until the 1970s. Any person working in construction up through the 1970s and any person near remodeling and demolition work as late as the 1980s and 1990s, could have been exposed to asbestos. Common asbestos products in the construction industry included drywall, joint compound, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roofing shingles, caulk and sealant products.
There were numerous other products that used asbestos products up through the 1970s, including switchgear and circuit breakers, wires, industrial tapes, cement pipes, industrial gloves and aprons, drilling muds, welding products and aircraft products. Indeed, there are too many applications to list in one publication. For such reasons, and as discussed in more detail below, it is imperative that you speak with our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys in detail about you work history and every potential source of exposure.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to many different diseases, each of which requires a different amount of asbestos exposure. Some asbestos diseases require only a small amount of exposure to develop, while some diseases require extensive asbestos exposure over a period of several years. As well, some diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, are only caused by asbestos. These diseases are commonly called signature diseases because there is only one known cause--asbestos. Factors such as smoking or chemical exposures do not cause or contribute to the development of signature diseases. Other diseases, such as lung cancer, have a variety of causes, including asbestos. These diseases may be caused solely by asbestos, solely by other factors, or through a combination of exposures. For example, lung cancer may be caused by a combination of asbestos exposure and smoking. Diseases commonly associated with asbestos exposure are discussed in further detail below.
Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a cancer of the outer lining (mesothelium) of the lung, stomach, or heart. Pleural mesothelioma is mesothelioma of one or more of the lungs, and is by far the most common type of mesothelioma. It is very important when discussing your case with our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys to distinguish between lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. They are different forms of cancer and the two terms should not be used interchangeably. If you doctor diagnoses you specifically with pleural mesothelioma, it is important to tell your attorney that fact. On the other hand, if you doctor diagnoses you specifically with lung cancer, it is important not to confuse that diagnosis with pleural mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the stomach. It is a less common form of mesothelioma. The rarest form of mesothelioma is pericardial mesothelioma, which is mesothelioma of the lining of the heart.
Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma and scientific studies have shown that relatively small exposure levels can lead to mesothelioma. It is important to note that not everyone who is exposed to a threshold level of asbestos gets mesothelioma. The disease is quite rare, even among groups of workers that worked with asbestos. Furthermore, while more exposure puts a person at a statistically increased risk of contracting mesothelioma, there is not a direct correlation between the amount of exposure and contraction of the disease. In fact, there are numerous scientific studies documenting groups of workers where some workers with relatively low exposures contract mesothelioma while some workers with higher exposures don't contract the disease. There are also documented cases involving workers' family members contracting the disease from clothes, laundry, and introduction of fibers into the home, while the workers themselves may or may not contract the disease. The contraction of mesothelioma has much more to do with each individual's resistance to the disease, and less to do with amount of exposure.
Mesothelioma typically has a 20-40 year latency period. This means that the disease does not usually develop until 20-40 years after the first exposures to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a very serious cancer and is rarely caught in its earlier stages. Treatment options for mesothelioma vary, and may include several types of surgery, talc placement, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination of these. Unfortunately, mesothelioma diagnosed in the later stages has a very poor prognosis, and is commonly fatal in 6-20 months. This fact creates numerous legal issues and requires swift action by our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys as discussed in the sections below.
Lung Cancer: There are multiple forms of lung cancer that have been linked to asbestos exposure. The lung cancer may be in one lung (unilateral) or may have spread to both lungs (bilateral). As well, the cancer may begin in the lungs and may have metastasized to other parts of the body such as the brain or the liver. It is important to note that if the cancer originated in a different part of the body and spread to the lung(s), then the cancer may not be related to asbestos (unless it originated as one of the "other cancers" discussed below). Physicians frequently call lung cancer by other names, including: lung tumor, carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. If you have been diagnosed with any of these diseases, it is important for our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys to know such information immediately.
Asbestos exposure is not the only cause of lung cancer and studies have consistently shown that exposure to other chemicals may cause the disease. Likewise, smoking has been directly linked to lung cancer. If a person was a smoker and was exposed to asbestos, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure may have caused the disease. Numerous studies have demonstrated the "synergistic effect" of smoking and lung cancer and have proven that exposure to both of these substances exponentially increases a person's risk of developing lung cancer.
In order for asbestos to cause lung cancer, some studies have suggested that a more significant exposure to asbestos is needed. In fact, some studies have suggested that years of exposure are required. Like mesothelioma, not everyone who is exposed to asbestos contracts lung cancer and there is not necessarily a direct correlation with amount of exposure and contraction of the disease. Lung cancer also has a similar latency period of 20-40 years between exposure to asbestos and development of the disease.
The treatments for lung cancer vary widely depending on the staging of the cancer and specific sub-type of lung cancer. Treatments may include several types of surgery, talc placement, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination of these. The prognosis for lung cancer also varies greatly depending on the staging, specific-sub type of lung cancer, and whether the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. Many forms of lung cancer caused by asbestos are treatable and not necessarily fatal, while others do ultimately prove to be fatal.
Other Cancers: Numerous other cancers have been associated with asbestos exposure. These cancers include stomach cancer (separate from peritoneal mesothelioma, the cancer of the lining of the stomach), colon cancer, rectal cancer, cancer of the larynx, cancer of pharynx, and esophageal cancer. Like lung cancer, these cancers area also frequently associated with exposures to other chemicals and behaviors, including specifically smoking. In order for asbestos to cause these cancers, a higher level of asbestos exposure is required. The latency periods for these cancers vary, but all have a latency period of at least 15 years between exposure and contraction of the diseases. Like lung cancer, the treatment options vary greatly on the specific type of cancer and its staging. Treatments may include several types of surgery, talc placement, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination of these. The prognosis for these cancers also varies greatly depending on the staging, specific type of cancer, and whether the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. NON-MALIGNANT DISEASES: The most common non-malignant diseases associated with asbestos are asbestosis and pleural plaques. These are not cancerous conditions, but can pose numerous health problems for those that develop the disease. Asbestosis is the scarring of the lungs by asbestos fibers. It is most commonly associated with severe shortness of breath and breathing problems. Asbestosis is caused by heavy inhalation of asbestos and is generally associated with trades known for heavy asbestos exposure over a sustained period of years. The disease is most commonly treated with oxygen and other breathing treatments intended to improve respiratory function.
Pleural plaque is another type of scarring to the lungs caused by deposits of collagen from asbestos fibers. While asbestos is not the sole cause of pleural plaques, it is the most common. Pleural plaques are also commonly referred to as calcification of the lung. Like asbestosis, it is generally caused by heavy exposure to asbestos over a longer duration. The disease is most commonly treated with oxygen and other breathing treatments intended to improve respiratory function.
The Legal Process
After your Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys investigates your work history and product identification, he will then discuss with you the plan for your case. Depending on the type of disease you have, the type of asbestos exposure, and the specific products identified, your attorney may be able to pursue one or more potential routes of recovery on your behalf. The most conventional route of recovery is for your Pensacola injury lawyer to file a case against the manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of the asbestos products and equipment to which you were exposed. The ability of your attorney to bring such a case is dependent upon the strength of the product identification evidence, the specific companies identified, and the severity of the disease.
Perhaps the single biggest factor in this determination relates to the specific companies identified. Since the 1980s, numerous asbestos product manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy protection. The companies that filed for and were given bankrupt status cannot be sued in court. Therefore, if the nature of your exposure and your product identification points to primarily bankrupt companies, then a conventional case in court cannot be filed on your behalf. Likewise, if a company never filed for bankruptcy but is no longer in existence and has no remaining assets, then a conventional legal case cannot be pursued. On the other hand, if your product identification points primarily to solvent companies, then a conventional legal case may be pursued on your behalf.
If a conventional case in court cannot be filed on your behalf, your Pensacola injury attorney may be able to make applications to bankruptcy trusts on your behalf. Likewise, your attorney may be able to pursue bankruptcy claims on your behalf in addition to a conventional court case. When some asbestos companies filed for bankruptcy, they still had assets at the time. In order to protect claimants, those assets were liquidated and put into trust funds for future asbestos claimants. Based on the nature of your exposure and the proof developed, your claims may qualify for payment from one or more of these trusts. Numerous asbestos companies have gone bankrupt or lapsed out of existence, but only some have remaining trusts for claimants to apply to.
A final potential route of recovery (and one that is frequently asked about by our clients) is a lawsuit against your employer. Most states do not allow conventional lawsuits against your employer, but have instead set up a worker compensation system to recoup money from an employer. Some states allow a lawsuit to continue against an employer despite the worker compensation system, but only in the most extreme cases. It is not conventional for Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys to bring lawsuits against your employer and they frequently decline to do so because of the worker compensation systems set up in most states. While it is uncommon, each case is individually evaluated for a potential lawsuit against your employer. It is important to note that we are also sensitive to some clients' desires not to pursue a case against their long time employers. We adhere to such clients' requests if they make them.
Asbestos litigation began in the 1980s and has seen thousands of lawsuits, thousands of attorneys, and tens of thousands of asbestos products. A complex legal framework has developed with a myriad of specialized issues and continual legal developments. It remains an extremely complicated area of litigation that requires a highly specialized attorney with a knowledgeable background to navigate the potential routes of recovery and help you and your family. At Ward & Barnes, our Pensacola mesothelioma attorneys are prepared to provide you with representation and help you and your family pursue all the damages you experience as a result of your tragic and unnecessary exposure to asbestos. Like all our injury cases, we never charge the client up front and we only get paid if we make a recovery on your behalf.