During World War II and the following years, many people worked in the shipbuilding industry and were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. The asbestos was used in boilers, pipes, engines, turbines and other areas where fire retardant was needed on the ship. During the war the government became aware of the dangers of asbestos (Such as the development of diseases like asbestosis or mesothelioma) as a result of research in Europe. Demand for ship production however, delayed the workers from being told that the asbestos they worked with could kill them by causing one of several forms of asbestos cancer.
Even though asbestos use has declined in shipbuilding within the United States, workers can still come in contact with asbestos during repair and cleaning of older ships that used asbestos for fire and corrosion retardant. Additionally, asbestos is not banned within the United States, and some countries still have only minimal regulation on its use. Therefore foreign built ships, and foreign components may still have very high concentrations of asbestos.
The National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, NASSCO, is headquartered in San Diego California. It has been doing business for over one hundred years. From 1905 until 1949 it was called the California Iron Works, and since 1949 it has done business under the NASSCO name. The company has changed ownership several times, but has been owned by General Dynamics since 1998.
In 1997 the San Diego Baykeeper environmental group successfully reached a settlement with NASSCO requiring it to audit its environmental policies regarding heavy metal runoff into San Diego Bay. As recently as 2006, NASSCO was found guilty of unfair labor practices by unilaterally appointing a health and safety representative for its workers in violation of their labor contract. Although this lawsuit did not specifically have to do with asbestos, it is related as a health and safety concern.
There have been asbestos related lawsuits against General Dynamics, the owner of NASSCO. For example, in 1997 a woman successfully sued General Dynamics for damages after the death of her husband from asbestos related illness. He had been employed by Electric Boat; a company owned by General Dynamics and had been exposed to asbestos during the course of his employment. Additionally the NASSCO shipyard is one of a number of shipyards with known asbestos contamination.
Many people with asbestos exposure have related health problems, but fear of the legal system keeps them from seeking compensation. Knowing what to expect when they visit a mesothelioma lawyer may help alleviate their fears. The first step generally involves filling out a questionnaire and meeting with a lawyer to answer questions about exposure, illness, and what treatments have occurred. The lawyer will usually ask the injured party to sign release of information statements so the law firm can order copies of employment and medical records.
After reviewing the evidence, the lawyer makes a decision about the strength of the case. Since most personal injury cases are taken on a contingency, the lawyer will not accept a case where recovery of damages is unlikely. If the case moves forward the lawyer usually writes a demand letter to the employer requesting a settlement. If there is not settlement, the lawyer files a complaint with the court and the other side has a number of days to file a reply. The injured party may be required to see a doctor of the employer’s choosing, and will probably have to answer some questions for the other side is in a proceeding called a deposition. The lawyers keep trying to negotiate a settlement, but if neither side is satisfied the case eventually goes to trial.