Asbestos Disease and Your Legal Rights
Every year, mesothelioma – a form of cancer caused by breathing asbestos dust – claims the lives of 2,500 people. Victims who have suffered serious injuries or illnesses from asbestos exposure should seek the advice of an attorney to understand their legal rights. Family members or loved ones of those who have died from an asbestos disease may also have a valid asbestos injury or wrongful death claim.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used in construction and building industries since the 19th century. Asbestos has a very high resistance to heat and chemicals, it is flexible, and it has a high tensile strength. The problem with asbestos, however, is that it causes a number of lung diseases and illnesses, some of which are fatal.
Until the 1970s, asbestos was used regularly in building materials for insulation, pipefitting, boiler-making, shipbuilding and repair, utilities and power plants, chemical plants and refineries, carpentry, and automotive repair. Because most asbestos disease shows up years, usually decades, after the work exposure, an asbestos case may be filed years after the asbestos exposure took place.
Virginia has a strict two-year statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit for asbestos injury. The clock starts ticking when “a diagnosis of asbestosis, interstitial fibrosis, mesothelioma, or other disabling asbestos-related injury or disease is first communicated to the person or his agent by a physician.” Lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure is an example of a “disabling asbestos-related injury or disease.”
Construction and building trades workers form the majority of the 1.3 million workers at risk for injury from asbestos dust exposure. Because their work involved the installation, building, maintenance and servicing of buildings, machinery and equipment that contain asbestos or use it as a fire retardant or heat shield, they are the most susceptible part of the work force. They also worked in the vicinity of others creating asbestos dust, which exposed all workers in the area.
These workers also, unknowingly, transported asbestos dust home on their clothes, hair, skin, boots, clothing, lunch boxes, thermoses, and cars. When they got home, the dust became embedded in their flooring, carpets, drapes, rugs, and furniture, to be stirred up over and over again. When laundry was shaken out before washing, homemakers and family members were exposed to high levels of asbestos dust. Thus, we unfortunately see spouses and children of workers being diagnosed with mesothelioma at an unacceptable level.
Mesothelioma is just one deadly illness that is caused by asbestos exposure. Other asbestos-related illnesses may include lung cancer, asbestosis, gastrointestinal cancer, respiratory complications, and more. The latency period – or time between exposure and diagnosis – for these diseases can range from 20 to 40 years or longer, which means many people who worked in construction two to four decades ago are just now being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
People who discover they are suffering from mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses (or, if deceased, their spouse) have a good chance of recovering financial compensation for damages, either from the company that manufactured or installed the asbestos, or from an insurance company or asbestos victims’ trust fund that has assumed liability for the responsible company. This is true even if the original manufacturer has long since been sold, closed down, or even gone bankrupt, thanks to the formation of asbestos victims’ trust funds.
There is no safe level of asbestos. Even a few days’ exposure can lead to mesothelioma, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you – or a loved one – are a victim of an asbestos-related illness or death, you should seek the advice of a product liability attorney with experience handling asbestos cases. They will help you determine your eligibility to file a lawsuit or otherwise recover from asbestos trusts established by bankrupt companies. These cases are highly specialized and should not be entrusted to an inexperienced attorney.
Be sure to file your case before the statute of limitation expires. Each state has its own deadline during which victims of asbestos-caused cancer can file a legal action. This means that you only have a limited time to file an asbestos-related lawsuit; if you do not file timely, you could lose any right to be compensated for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, grief, solace, loss of companionship, and other forms of remuneration.
[*] Mazurek JM, Syamlal G, Wood JM, Hendricks SA, Weston A. Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality — United States, 1999–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:214–218. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6608a3
[†] Virginia Code Ann. § 8.01-249(4)
Article written by attorneys Greg Webb.