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Does cigarette smoking reduce asbestos victims' legal rights?

Last month, a married couple filed an asbestos lawsuit against more than 85 companies. In the suit, the plaintiffs alleged that the companies were responsible for the 80-year-old husband's exposure to asbestos during his 30-year steel employment as an electrician and laborer, and that they were therefore also responsible for his mesothelioma diagnosis.

There is one interesting detail about this lawsuit that we felt was worth a larger discussion on our Madison County mesothelioma law blog. In the suit, the plaintiffs admit that the husband smoked a pack of cigarettes every day for 13 years, coinciding with the beginning of his employment and asbestos exposure. The lawsuit states that he has not smoked since 1964.

This raises an interesting and often-misunderstood issue. Does smoking automatically eliminate a plaintiff's right to damages for his or her asbestos exposure and lung disease diagnosis?

Although this question varies depending on the circumstances surrounding the asbestos exposure and the specific ailment with which the victim has been diagnosed, in general, the answer is no. This is especially true for people who have contracted mesothelioma, which has not been shown to be caused by cigarette smoking or any other tobacco use. That disease is only caused by exposure to asbestos and similar products.

For other forms of lung cancer, the answer might be less clear. However, if you believe that you were exposed to asbestos and that your exposure resulted in a cancer diagnosis, don't let the fact that you smoked prevent you from seeking legal advice. An experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you determine whether an asbestos lawsuit is likely to be successful based on your entire employment and health history.

Source: Ellwood City Ledger, "South Beaver couple files asbestos lawsuit in W.Va.," Patrick O'Shea Calkins, Oct. 18, 2012

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