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Family Awarded $3.5 Million in Second Hand Asbestos Case

A family in Washington State was awarded $3.5 million in an asbestos case involving second hand exposure. The award, which an appellate court later reduced to $2.5 million, is the largest sum in state history to be awarded based on second hand exposure. The family involved in the case are the children of a woman who died from mesothelioma that developed from what her lawyers labeled “take-home” exposure.

The woman’s husband, who worked at a refinery, died of a number of illnesses, including asbestosis. Months later, she died of mesothelioma. The woman’s daughter told The Seattle Times that she watched her mother shake “chunks of dusty debris” from her father’s clothes when he arrived home from work. Afterwards, “she would wash his clothes and sweep up the laundry room.”

Family members also said that the refinery had just four showers for 200 employees. This created hours long wait times for workers to clean asbestos dust from their bodies at the end of their shift. Many workers could not afford to wait. The refinery did not have a laundry service either, said the family, so employees had to take their asbestos-laden clothes home to wash.

The woman, who was 80 years old, began complaining of exhaustion and other ailments. Just four months later, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given a year to live. She died just one day before her lawyers presented closing arguments in her lawsuit against an insulation company.

The family continued the suit and went on to sue several other companies, including those that manufactured, distributed, or sold products that contained asbestos. The defendants were accused of conspiracy, negligence, and willful or wanton misconduct and product liability.

It is a common belief that exposure to asbestos only occurs when people come in direct contact with it in occupations such as construction or in the military, mostly in shipbuilding. This is not always the case. Exposure can occur in the community (near asbestos mines or demolition and construction sites), in the home, schools, and other structures (asbestos could be in pipes, insulation, wallboard, and floor tiles), and second hand—through contact with someone who works with asbestos. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

Per the National Cancer Institute (NCI), investigators have found asbestos-related diseases in individuals with only brief exposures. This means “family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos, face an increased risk of developing mesothelioma.” The risk results from “exposure to asbestos fibers brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin, and hair of workers.”

Though current Federal law regulates workplace practices to limit the possibility of asbestos being brought home in this way, these regulations were not in place decades ago when asbestos use was at its peak. It can take anywhere from 10 to 40 years or more for symptoms of asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma to appear, says NCI. This means, if second hand exposure occurred in say, the mid-1970s, symptoms could begin to appear today, or even 10 years from now. If you have been exposed to asbestos, second hand or otherwise, please see your doctor right away.

 

Sources

"Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk." National Cancer Institute (NCI). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

"Protecting Workers from Asbestos." EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 21 Dec. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

Sullivan, Jennifer. "Jury Awards $3.5M in 'take-home' Asbestos Case." The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

"U.S. Federal Bans on Asbestos." EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 19 Dec. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.