Montana Mesothelioma Lawyer

Montana (MT) Asbestos Information:

If there is a “Ground Zero” in the war on asbestos, it is the small Montana town of Libby. It was here that W.R. Grace & Company (six executives of which were facing criminal charges) operated asbestos and vermiculite mines for 30 years after taking over from the company that had run the mines since the 1920s.

The asbestos exposure affected not only the workers, but their families and the people of the town. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), in Lincoln County, of which Libby is the county seat, there were 30 deaths from asbestosis between 1980 and 2000, and four additional fatalities due to mesothelioma during the same period.

This figure is misleading, however, and only represents the beginning. Asbestos diseases have a lengthy latency period; symptoms of mesothelioma typically do not appear for 20 to 50 years after initial exposure.

In fact, since 1980, over 200 people have died because of exposure to a substance called vermiculite. Many of these were not initially counted in the EWG figures because a federal judge ruled that “vermiculite” was in fact not asbestos. Technically, this is true: by itself, vermiculite is a relatively harmless form of clay.

However, the vermiculite – used in a commercial insulation called Zonolite® – was contaminated with a type of deadly amphibole asbestos known as tremolite. In September of 2007, the judge’s ruling was overturned by a court in Seattle and the federal investigation against the corporation was allowed to proceed.

This will be of some small comfort to the over 1,000 residents of Libby (out of a population of about 2,100) who have been diagnosed with asbestos disease such as asbestosis, or one of the more deadly asbestos cancers, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Other Locations

Libby may have been the worst hit by asbestos poisoning, but it wasn’t the only location.

First of all, Zonolite® was shipped all over Montana as well as the rest of the nation; current estimates are that over 35 million homes that still contain this type of insulation.

Anaconda is another corporation that allowed its employees to be exposed to asbestos. The company operated both copper and aluminum manufacturing plants; asbestos insulation is used extensively in smelting because of heat levels.

In addition, Montana is also the location of three refineries at which petroleum was processed. Petroleum is highly combustible, even in crude form: asbestos packing is used in pipe fittings and is contained in the lining of protective clothing worn by such workers, which is subject to wear.

There are also six Montana power plants listed as asbestos problem sites. Employees at such sites have been particularly susceptible to asbestos because of the pipe fittings, conduits and other insulation used in these facilities. Asbestos is not only an excellent flame retardant, but also resistant to electrical current; as a result, a significant percentage of all power plant employees may suffer from some type of asbestos illness.

This was demonstrated in 2003, when a study of chest x-rays taken of Puerto Rican power plant workers revealed “abnormalities” in 13% of the cases.

Other Statistics

Even going by EWG figures (which for reasons explained above are likely to understate the problem), Lincoln County had suffered over three times the rate of asbestos-related deaths as the next highest county, which was Yellowstone, followed by Cascade and Missoula.

Beyond Libby and these relatively urbanized areas (even today, the entire population of the state is under one million), death rates due to asbestos were relatively low; most of these outside of Lincoln County were due to malignant mesothelioma, which unlike asbestosis is invariably fatal, with few treatment options.

Montana (MT) Mesothelioma Lawyer & Legal Resources:

A search through the Montana Federal District Court Cases for asbestos-related personal injury product liability lawsuits or Montana mesothelioma lawsuits brings up one recent lawsuit from 2007: Hurlburt et al v. Bondex et al. Montana is ranked 43 in the U.S. for mesothelioma cases. With a mesothelioma mortality rate of 14.21 per million, Montana has a crude mortality rank of 15 in the country.

In July 2007, a key Montana asbestos case was underway. Columbia company W.R. Grace, based in Libby, Montana, was accused of spreading asbestos fibers throughout the town of Libby. Although a lower-court judge had barred the U.S. attorney in Montana from calling several witnesses and using certain studies as evidence in a pending trial over Grace’s actions in Libby, an appeals court panel reversed that ruling. The lower-court judge had rejected the government’s bid to present nine witnesses and three critical environmental health studies, citing deadlines the prosecution had missed.

However, the appeals court said that in order to bar the witnesses from testifying, the lower court would have to find that the government lapse was intentional and occurred in an attempt to achieve a tactical advantage. Unless this was shown, the appeals court ruled that the evidence should be allowed.

In February, 2005, authorities indicted Grace and seven current and former officials on charges including conspiracy and obstruction, accusing them of knowingly spreading asbestos for two generations in Libby, a small, northwestern Montana town. Federal officials called the case one of the most significant environmental crimes in decades. One study indicated that more than 1,200 people in Libby and surrounding areas showed signs of lung problems related to asbestos from the mine owned by Grace. Most of the problems appeared in people who had not worked at the site but who had come into contact with the asbestos fibers in the course of their daily lives.

The case has faced challenges because the Montana statute of limitations bars evidence that shows that Grace continued to expose Libby residents to asbestos even after scientific studies suggested the dangers of the fiber. The suit has also been plagued by other difficulties. The mine was operated by Grace from the 1960s until the 1990s, and some of those who are defendants and plaintiffs are elderly now or in very poor health. Former mine manager Alan R. Stringer, one of the defendants in the criminal case, died, as did anti-asbestos advocate Les Skramstad. Skramstad was one of the first people to win a civil court judgment against Grace for its activities in Libby. The length of time that the asbestos was not seen as a threat is proving a problem, not only in terms of Montana’s statute of limitations, but also for the pragmatic reason that it has become difficult to sort out the facts and locate everyone who was involved in the case.

Those interested in filing lawsuits or hiring a Montana mesothelioma lawyer should know that the statute of limitations for personal injury law in Montana is three years with a discovery rule that states that this amount of time begins when the problem (in this case the mesothelioma) either was discovered or should have been discovered. Wrongful death cases follow the same statute of limitations and discovery rule as personal injury cases. There is no specific statute about asbestos.