Springfield, IL—A former postal worker and part-time handyman who was exposed to asbestos while on the job, and who contracted mesothelioma as a result, was awarded $2 million by a Sangamon County jury last week.
William Willis was a night-shift U.S. Postal Service employee from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. He also performed various odd jobs during the day, including working as a truck driver, bus driver and repairman, and doing construction work. During the trial, which lasted 3 ½ weeks before Circuit Judge Pete Cavanaugh, Willis testified that during this work he used asbestos pipe manufactured by the CertainTeed Corp., as well as a joint compound which contained asbestos and which was manufactured by Bondex International Inc. and Georgia-Pacific Corp., among others.
Asbestos is an organic mineral substance which is fibrous in nature and has remarkable durability as well as resistance to fire and heat. This made it valuable in the construction, manufacturing, shipbuilding and automotive industries, until its carcinogenic nature began to be discovered and understood in the latter half of the twentieth century.
When asbestos becomes “friable,” or easily disturbed or broken, it poses a hazard from its microscopic, needlelike fibers, which can become airborne. These are easily inhaled, and then lodge themselves in the lungs, other organs, and soft tissues of the body, leading to asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis. These diseases have a long latency period, which means that they may not develop and become symptomatic until years after the initial exposure to the asbestos-containing material. For this reason, they are often difficult to diagnose, and their origin can be hard to trace.
Asbestos was phased out of consumer and industrial products beginning in the 1970s due to its health hazards, but still remains in some existing structures. Because of the long latency period associated with asbestos products, as well, many new cases of mesothelioma and other diseases are just now being diagnosed.
Willis, who now lives in Arkansas, has developed pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs and chest cavity; he alleged that his exposure to asbestos directly led to this disease. He also alleged that the products he used did not carry warnings about the asbestos content or the dangers of working with the substance, or if they did have warnings, those warnings were inadequate.
Several other defendants either settled prior to the trial, or were dismissed from the case prior to the verdict. Although Willis was awarded $2 million, the jury award is subject to a reduction of $1.4 million due to prior settlements.