Asbestos Exposure and Your Legal Rights
If you've sustained an asbestos-related work injury, you may have a right to sue for damages. An asbestos lawyer can help you file a lawsuit if you are suffering from mesothelioma or other work related asbestos diseases. This is true regardless of whether the injury or illness in question was caused directly (in the case of a job which involved working with toxic materials) or indirectly (such a substance was present in the workplace, such as an office or classroom).
In addition, you may be eligible for workers' compensation as well as Social Security disability benefits. As a worker, you paid into the system for this very reason. In fact, if you earned the median U.S. salary when you worked, Social Security taxes constituted a sizable portion of your deductions. If you have paid the requisite amounts into social security, you may have a right to collect payments when you are no longer able to work.
It is important to have a thorough understanding of asbestos exposure and your legal rights under the law - and choose a mesothelioma lawyer who has knowledge and experience dealing with work-related injury issues.
A Brief History of Asbestos
The use of asbestos predates the Industrial Age. The ancient Egyptians incorporated asbestos fibers into the funeral shrouds in which they entombed their deceased pharaohs. In the Hellenic world of the Roman Empire, asbestos was used in the creation of "everlasting wicks" used in oil burning.
Although it was extremely rare, people who worked with this amazing, flexible "serpentine" stone were periodically known to suffer from what was then called the "Crab Sickness." Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, was the first to identify such tumors. Because the swollen blood vessels around such tumors somewhat resembled the front claws of crabs, he called them karkinos, the Greek word for "crab" - from which comes the term carcinogen.
The toxicity of asbestos was becoming apparent to the general public by the 1960's, although scientists had actually been issuing warnings about its hazards in scholarly journals dating back to the late 1930s (it is estimated that asbestos exposure in the shipyards during World War II ultimately resulted in nearly as many deaths by Navy veterans as combat injuries). Nonetheless, in the name of maintaining profits and externalizing costs, some large corporations withheld this information from the public.
Ultimately, this information could not be concealed. Because of the determination of a small number of attorneys, these corporations finally started to be held accountable when the first asbestos-related lawsuit was filed in 1966 (Tomplait v. Johns-Manville, et. al.).
Your Rights Under Current Law
When you file a lawsuit against an asbestos manufacturer, it will be one of two types, depending on whether you are filing the suit as the victim, or a family member suing on behalf of someone who has died from an asbestos-related condition.
Living victims file a personal injury claim. The damages that you may receive under such a claim may include compensation for medical costs, loss of income, and pain and suffering. In addition, a judge or jury may add punitive damages above that (although some corporate lobbyists in Washington D.C. have been writing legislation which would place more and more restrictions on punitive damages).
Family members of the decedent (sometimes known as survivors) may be able to file a wrongful death suit. Although laws and procedures differ from that of a personal injury claim, the plaintiffs are seeking the same remedy.
Something you may hear about is the statute of limitations. This is the period of time within which you must file your claim, or lawsuit; otherwise, your right to sue is forfeit. Even if that time has expired, you may still be able to make claims against trusts that have been established to compensate victims of asbestos. In the case of malignant mesothelioma or asbestosis, this period varies considerably from one state to the next. It's best not to wait before taking legal action; file your complaint as soon as possible after your diagnosis has been confirmed.
Keep in mind that symptoms of mesothelioma can take years and even decades to appear. Many shipyard workers employed during the Second World War were not diagnosed with asbestos cancer until the 1980s.
You and your attorney will need to gather a great deal of information, part of which establishes the manufacturer of the asbestos and whether or not your former employer was aware of the dangers involved. You and your attorney have the legal right to request, receive and examine this evidence.
Rights vary from state to state. Your damages may include - but may not be limited to - compensation for medical bills, related expenses such as travel, loss of income, and legal expenses. The last issue is important, although if your attorney takes your case on contingency, i.e., on a percentage basis, s/he may take this into consideration when calculating the amount of damages.
Finally, if you are among the fortunate people who have not yet, to the best of their knowledge, been exposed to harmful concentrations of asbestos, understand that that workers have the right to a reasonably safe workplace as well as protective equipment and proper training in handling such materials when necessary. If you are planning to purchase an older or vintage home, you also may have the right to have the home inspected for asbestos, and negotiate with the seller to remove the asbestos before finalizing the sale.