The family of a mechanic’s assistant who was diagnosed with, and later died from, mesothelioma has been awarded $700,000 by a South Carolina jury.
Thomas Firth, who worked for Garlock Sealing Technologies in the 1950s, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in November 2006. He died in July 2007. Firth and his family had filed a lawsuit against Garlock, alleging that the company failed to warn Firth and other employees of the potential for exposure to the carcinogen asbestos.
Garlock is a manufacturer of fluid sealing products for processing industries. Firth, who worked at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation plant in Sparrows Point, Maryland, worked with Garlock gaskets and packing on coke oven pumps and valves. He was a mechanic’s assistant whose only exposure to asbestos was through the Garlock products, although he worked at the plant for less than a year.
Asbestos is a remarkably fireproof and heatproof material, which has been used for insulation and building purposes for decades. It is a naturally occurring mineral substance, which is comprised of millions of microscopic fibers. Although it is generally considered to be safe for humans when it remains in place and undisturbed, any disturbance of the material – which may be incurred during mining, production or renovation or demolition of an asbestos-contaminated structure – causes the substance to become “friable.” This means that the microscopic fibers are released and become airborne, and can then be breathed in. The fibers lodge themselves inescapably in the lungs and other soft tissues, where they can lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos cancers and diseases.
Mesothelioma is particularly deadly because it has an extremely long latency period. An asbestos worker can contract the disease but not become symptomatic, or be diagnosed, for years or even decades after the initial exposure. Mesothelioma’s symptoms also tend to be extremely similar to symptoms of other pleural diseases such as emphysema, making them difficult to diagnose. By the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, it’s usually too late to treat it effectively.
The South Carolina jury awarded Thomas Firth’s family $700,000, after unanimously finding that Garlock did indeed fail to warn Firth, and other workers who may have come into contact with their products, about the asbestos contained within and the damage that asbestos could do.