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Articles Posted in Secondary or Take Home Asbestos Exposure & Mesothelioma

The NJ appeals court recently upheld a sanction against Ford in a mesothelioma case involving second-hand asbestos exposure. When Mrs. A.C (a name used for purposes of this article) was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, her family filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company, her husband’s former employer. According to the family, Mrs. A.C developed mesothelioma after inhaling asbestos fibers from her husband’s clothing during the 30 years that he worked as a service manager for the motor dealerships. During the trial, Ford Motor Company withheld evidence in violation of discovery rules, which led to the court imposing a significant sanction. Ford appealed the decision and the sanction, but the NJ state appeals court refused to set the sanctions aside.

For many years, Mrs. A.C’s family had tried to obtain the training manuals for Ford so that they could prove to the court that the company had not warned its workers about the dangers of asbestos in brake dust. Unfortunately, the family was not able to obtain those materials. Instead of producing the information, a corporate representative testified that he could not locate it. He said that none of the manuals were found.

In response, Mrs. A.C’s attorney confronted the representative with a copy of the manual. After the confrontation, the representative confessed that he had seen the manual before and even answered questions about it in previous asbestos cases. After learning that the representative had withheld evidence, the court imposed the sanction that went beyond the jury’s $800,000 verdict.

Secondary asbestos exposure, also known as second-hand asbestos exposure, is when someone who works directly with asbestos or asbestos-contaminated material carries asbestos fibers home and exposes their household members to those fibers. When a worker brings home asbestos fibers, they put their loved ones at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Secondary asbestos exposure is especially frequent among women and children, although men too can fall victim to this kind of asbestos exposure.

Before the dangerous effects of asbestos became known, and before strict regulations were passed, people working with asbestos often brought home asbestos fibers in their person. However, over the decades, cases of second-hand asbestos exposure have reduced. Because of this reduction, one might wonder why courts are seeing many secondary asbestos exposure lawsuits. One main reason is that doctors are getting better at diagnosing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma. Years ago, if an individual without obvious asbestos exposure exhibited mesothelioma-like symptoms, they would have most likely been overlooked. However, today, because of the advancement in science and medicine, medical professionals are able to figure out if indeed a person without any obvious asbestos exposure is suffering from mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Has a Long Latency Period

Mesothelioma, just like other forms of cancer, is not contagious. Touching, sharing meals, or even breathing the same air cannot spread mesothelioma. Generally, cancer cells from a cancer patient cannot live in the body of a healthy person because the immune system usually destroys foreign cells, including cancer cells from a cancer patient.

How Does a Person Get Mesothelioma?

Asbestos exposure is still the only known cause of mesothelioma. According to the American Cancer Society, about eight out of 10 people with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a highly toxic substance that was commonly used before the 1980s, especially in construction, because of its durability and heat-resistant properties. When asbestos is disturbed, asbestos fibers get released into the air. If a person inhales asbestos fibers, the fibers can get into the lungs. When asbestos fibers get into the lungs, they can travel to the pleural lining of the lung and chest wall. Over time, asbestos fibers that reach the pleura can cause inflammation and scarring and cause mesothelioma.

A family that lost a loved one after she developed mesothelioma through second-hand asbestos exposure will have their day in court after a Louisiana court denied a wallboard company’s request for summary judgment. The deceased (who, for purposes of this article, will be referred to as Mrs. J) died of mesothelioma at the age of 75. Before she died, Mrs. J filed a lawsuit against several companies, accusing them of negligently exposing her to the toxic mesothelioma-causing substance known as asbestos. Though most of the companies the deceased took to court compensated her, one particular company, Hopeman Brothers, Inc., chose to file a motion for summary judgment. The company filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that Mrs. J had no proof that she had fallen victim to asbestos exposure because of their (Hopeman Brothers Inc.) products.

After Mrs. J died, her daughter continued the lawsuit. Mrs. J’s daughter maintains that her mother developed mesothelioma because of being exposed to asbestos through her grandfather, who used to come home with asbestos-contaminated work clothes. During the years that Mrs. J’s father worked at Avondale Shipyard, he worked in close proximity to Hopeman’s operations involving asbestos-contaminated wallboard. At that time, Mrs. J was still a child, and whenever her father got home, she would shake out his asbestos-contaminated work clothing, clean it, and clean up the asbestos that had accumulated on the floor.

Even though Hopeman accepted that some of their shipbuilding products were asbestos-contaminated, they argued that because Mrs. J’s father only worked on vessels that were pre-launch, he could not have been the one who took home the asbestos fibers and dust that led to his daughter developing mesothelioma. Hopeman claimed that their wallboard was only cut after a ship had been launched, meaning Mrs. J’s father, who worked on pre-launch vessels, could not have been exposed to asbestos. However, Mrs. J’s attorneys managed to present witnesses who said that wallboard was cut pre-launch at Wet Dock No. 2, where Mrs. J’s father had spent a tremendous amount of time cleaning up dust left behind. The witnesses also testified about the huge amount of dust that was generated, confirming that Mrs. J’s father would have carried asbestos fibers home on his work clothing.

A recent Duke University study published in The American Journal of Surgical Pathology examined hundreds of women diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma, looking to an analyzing trends among the group which could eventually shed light on new treatment and detection methods. One of the key findings in the mesothelioma cancer study found that women with objective markers were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and that their average age of diagnosis was older compared to those diagnosed with another common type of the cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma.

The mesothelioma cancer study, which was a continuation study of an ongoing study by Duke University, examined 354 female mesothelioma patients of which the overwhelmingly majority were known to have been exposed to asbestos. The authors state that this exposure came from household contact, primarily from a family member who would have been exposed to asbestos fibers in an industrial setting. Of those studied, 275 patients had a pleural mesothelioma diagnosis which corresponds to linings of tissue surrounding the lungs and 79 cases were those of peritoneal mesothelioma which affects tissue linings around the abdominal cavity.

The researchers found that survival rates were longer for those with epithelial subtypes of peritoneal mesothelioma, though their average age of diagnosis was younger at 52 years of age compared to 62 years of age for those diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. Further, researchers found that tremolite asbestos was a common form of the mineral which the patients were exposed to, followed by amphibole asbestos – considered one of the most deadly forms of the mineral. Some of these types of asbestos are found in cosmetics products such as talcum powder.

It is commonly known that asbestos is a dangerous substance that has been the cause of diseases and cancers such as mesothelioma. Due to its fire-retardant properties, the mineral was considered very useful to many industries, such as fireproofing or insulating for construction.

Even after regulations were put in place to severely restrict and in some instances, discontinue its use in the 1970s, people continued to get sick. It can take years for the long-term effects of asbestos exposure to be realized.

If you have a family member who worked in an environment where asbestos was present before regulations were in effect, you may have also been exposed. How did it happen?

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