In some cases, a class action suit–one in which a single suit is filed on behalf of numerous plaintiffs with similar actions against the same defendant(s)–is a more efficient way to get justice, although it’s more effective at punishing a defendant than getting restitution for plaintiffs. Most class action suits involve hundreds of plaintiffs against a large corporation or industry. While the awards in these cases can be huge, by the time the proceeds are allocated and paid out, each individual winds up getting relatively little. This particular class action promises to be different. Unlike most such lawsuits, this one has very few plaintiffs and over 100 named defendants. Among the defendants are 12 chemical factories–including notorious corporate polluter DuPont–a number of research facilities, electrical power and steam generation plants, and other industries located in West Virginia. The plaintiffs–all of whom suffer directly, or represent the estate of someone who has died from asbestos-related cancer and in some cases asbestos is as well–consist of steelworkers, truck drivers, pipefitters and electricians. All of these are occupations known to be associated with asbestos poisoning. One of the plaintiffs is of particular interest to those who suffered so-called “secondary” exposure to asbestos.
“Secondary” exposure happens when the workers at an asbestos site carry asbestos fibers into their homes, unknowingly exposing their families. This is the case for one of the plaintiffs, whose husband and sons all worked at a local steel mill. Ida Mae Hoit contracted asbestosis and mesothelioma from asbestos fibers on her husband’s clothing and hair. Recently, an appellate court in Washington State ruled that corporations in fact do bear liability and can be held responsible for such secondary exposure (See “Employers’ Responsibility Toward Family Members” posted 29 August). The defendants face claims ranging from medical expenses and compensation for lost income and loss of consortium to wrongful death, in addition to punitive damages. In total, the plaintiff suits allege 18 counts of miscellaneous wrongdoing.