For most of the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in the U.S. Navy, both in the shipyards were the vessels were built and onboard in a wide array of applications. This resulted in widespread asbestos exposure among Navy veterans, in many cases leading to disastrous health consequences in the decades that followed. Often, the disease remains undetected for a period of 20 to 50 years before resulting in a terminal diagnosis.
The legal battle surrounding Garlock Sealing Technologies and its asbestos-containing products has taken a new turn. The company, currently in bankruptcy, has recently struck a deal with future asbestos claimants. The deal agrees to divide $358 million over the next 40 years among those who can demonstrate, in the future, that they were exposed to asbestos from Garlock's gasket technology. That agreement has sparked controversy among the people with existing claims against the company.
Illinois residents should keep an eye on a fellow Midwest state, which has recently signed into law a bill to place obstacles in the path of asbestos litigation. In what is a disturbing result for victims of mesothelioma, the state will now place extra burdens on those who pursue asbestos litigation.
In October, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, a longtime smoker, filed a lawsuit for lung cancer she has medical evidence to show was caused by exposure to asbestos when she was a teen and young adult. She was primarily exposed while doing laundry for her father and brother, both boiler makers, whose clothing came home covered in the deadly fibers. Because of her smoking, however, her lawsuit brought a storm of criticism.
In 2006, a long-term employee of the Crown-Zellerbach paper mill in Washington state was diagnosed with pleural malignant epithelial mesothelioma. As our readers are aware, mesothelioma is a rare but deadly cancer known to be caused by exposure to airborne asbestos particles. This man, now deceased, said he had regularly worked around asbestos-containing dryer felts over the course of his career from 1968 to 2001. He was even allowed to bring the dryer felts home to use as gardening underlayment.
As we discussed last month, the devastating effects of asbestos exposure on Americans was in no way limited to people who worked for the companies producing it or in high-risk occupations. All too often, asbestos was spread around the environment in the form of cheap, recycled materials used for ground fill and paving projects. Others who never worked directly with asbestos were exposed through dust brought home on the clothing of family members who did -- and that exposure was often enough to cause mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.
Here in Illinois and in most states, virtually all workplace injuries and occupational diseases are handled through the workers’ compensation system, which has special rules. Workers who develop job-related illnesses or injuries are covered by workers’ comp regardless of whether their employers were negligent. Balancing that is the “exclusivity rule,” which means these cases must be handled through workers’ comp; workers can’t sue for negligence.
When people think of asbestos victims, they often assume they worked for years in industries where asbestos-laden products were commonly used. It is true that certain industries exposed workers to asbestos more than others -- railroad and shipyard workers, welders, plumbers, pipe fitters, boiler mechanics and construction workers, for example. Any occupation where workers would be installing, wearing or working around insulation or insulated products turned out to be high-risk. The reason asbestos was once so popular was its remarkable insulating properties.
Media Matters for America, a not-for-profit organization created to monitor and correct inaccurate media reports, took major exception to a Dec. 2 column in the New York Times. The column criticized Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York for having recently filed a lawsuit against 70 asbestos companies potentially responsible for the lung cancer she made public in June. Since McCarthy is a longtime smoker, the writer attacked the eight-term House representative’s lawsuit as evidence that “asbestos litigation is a giant scam.”