Kansas City, MO—A Clay County jury has awarded $4.5 million to the family of a man who contracted mesothelioma while on the job.
Robert Wagner worked for various contractors in the Kansas City area, installing asbestos-containing ceiling tiles and other materials in commercial buildings, from 1955 to 1989. Since much of the work occurred before regulations for asbestos use were put in place by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), much of the material contained high levels of the building additive asbestos.
Asbestos, which is a natural mineral substance, has properties which make it not only highly resistant to damage from fire, water and extreme temperature, but is also strong and lightweight. It can be mixed into building and industrial products such as cement, insulating materials and fabric. It was used for years in commercial and residential buildings, as well as in vehicles, and remains extant in a number of structures today.
It is generally believed that asbestos is relatively harmless as long as it is intact, but once the material becomes disturbed in any way, it can release millions of microscopic fibers into the air. When people breathe asbestos-contaminated air, the fibers become lodged in the body’s organs and soft tissues. From there they can lead to devastating and deadly diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, pleural disease, and asbestosis.
Since these diseases generally have a long latency period – meaning that they may lie dormant in the body for years or even decades before becoming symptomatic – people who contracted them while on the job years ago may only now be diagnosed. This makes mesothelioma and the other diseases harder to treat.
Wagner’s diagnosis of mesothelioma was made more than 30 years after his exposure to the building products containing the carcinogen. He died in 2007, just six months after being diagnosed.
His wife and adult children brought the lawsuit, naming Conwed Corporation, Simpson Timber Company and Bondex International. Former coworkers of Wagner’s testified that he had installed thousands of ceiling tiles during his career, and that they had never seen a warning label nor been warned by the companies about the hazards of the material.
When working with asbestos-containing material, property safety precautions must be taken in order to prevent inhalation of the fibers. Masks or respirators, as well as protective clothing, are now required by OSHA standards for all workers who come in contact with asbestos products. Wagner’s coworkers testified that they never used such safety gear.
The jury returned its verdict in the wrongful-death case in just over three hours.