Civil lawsuit number 1000 of 2007 in the “judicial hellhole” of Madison County, Illinois, not surprisingly, is an asbestos case. Ms. Betty Talley’s brother Herbert Hollis died from asbestos-related cancer in 2005. She has now filed suit against 61 named corporate defendants on behalf of her brother’s estate. The suit alleges that Hollis was exposed to asbestos fibers both on the job and while performing home and auto repairs. Hollis’ employment history includes several industries associated with asbestos poisoning: cement work, a pipe factory, a lumber yard and a foundry. In addition, Hollis was an employee of Sears, several stores of which have automotive repair facilities, and the University of Alabama. As you may be aware from reading this column, many academic institutions have buildings that even today contain asbestos materials and pose a real health danger to occupants. Although efforts are being made at many campuses (see “Asbestos Danger at SUNY” posted on 6 November, “Asbestos Leaves Students in the Dark” posted 20 September, and “More Asbestos Found in Aging College Buildings” posted 25 October), the work progresses slowly at America’s centers of higher education. Herbert Hollis was diagnosed with the cancer on 10 December 2002.
He died exactly three years later. According to the complaint, Hollis experienced a great deal of pain and suffering, and in addition was liable for massive medical expenses as he simultaneously experienced a loss of income. Afterwards, his family–now deprived of his support–was liable for his funeral and burial expenses, which alone can range from $5,000 to $10,000. The suit is seeking half a million dollars plus legal expenses. As is standard in this type of action, the complaint alleges that the defendants knew (or should have known) of the toxicity of asbestos, and failed to take responsible action for the protection of workers by issuing warnings, providing appropriate training and protective equipment, or using appropriate alternatives when such materials were available. Furthermore, the suit alleges that the defendant corporations destroyed relevant documents and/or have otherwise failed to provide documentation related to their use of asbestos-containing materials.