As of April 2003, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) – that state’s leading provider of gas and electric utilities – was a named defendant in twenty asbestos lawsuits. These lawsuits alleged that workers contracted mesothelioma and/or asbestosis as a result of primary exposure to asbestos. Over three years earlier, PNM had been served with a complaint for wrongful death due to secondary, or non-occupation exposure to asbestos.
Where the Asbestos Is
Pleural Mesothelioma Those who work in power generating facilities – particularly electricians, pipefitters, boilermakers and other repair/maintenance personnel – are among those industrial workers at greatest risk for contracting asbestos-related diseases. According to the Center for Health Statistics, malignant mesothelioma victims made up over three percent of the workers who die of work-related causes, with the most common form being pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the chest.
Between the mid 1930s and the 1980s, asbestos was widely used as a flame retardant and insulator against both heat and electrical current. Electric wiring, panel partitions, and electrical cloth were all made with asbestos during that period. Electrical conduits were frequently packed with asbestos insulation, and the substance was found in plaster, drywall, and even cement.
Such exposure to asbestos may be considered primary or secondary exposure, depending on whether the worker actually handled asbestos materials, or was simply present in a location where such materials were handled.
For the families of power plant workers, there is also the danger of non-occupational exposure, as asbestos fibers may be carried into the home in such a worker’s hair and clothing.
The problems created by asbestos may not be mentioned in the media much today, but there is plenty of factual and detailed news available online and in printed books. When it comes to asbestos, the definitive work is Michael Bowker’s hard-hitting Fatal Deception: How Asbestos is Killing America. In this book, Bowker outlines in detail the corporate conspiracy to hide the truth from American workers and the lengths to which corporate interests would go in order to evade responsibility.
Amazingly, even though this negligence on the part of corporations has been proven since the late 1970s, big money interests continue to manipulate the system and literally purchase favorable legislation in Congress through a small army of lobbyists (many of whom are former Congressional aides or Congressmen themselves). Examples of how a corporate defendant will attempt to escape liability could be found in the 1998 case Wilson v. John Crane, Inc.
Asbestos Cancer The plaintiff in this case had worked in power plants in Arizona and New Mexico between 1957 and 1991. He contracted the asbestos cancer mesothelioma as a result of his job, which involved handling gaskets and asbestos packing manufactured by the defendant.
At first, the defense moved to have the case dismissed based on a New Mexico statute of limitations for product liability. When this was overturned, the defense attempted to have the case removed to Federal Courts, which are far more sympathetic to corporate interests in general. The case was finally remanded to the San Francisco Superior Court for trial; under California law, had the plaintiff died during the procedural delays, the defendant would have not been liable for pain and suffering.
Ultimately, a jury awarded the plaintiff $3 million in damages due to pain and suffering a top of nearly $600,000 in economic losses and $1 million to the plaintiff’s wife for loss of consortium.