Tennessee Court to Hear Asbestos Suit

Because of its lengthy latency period–usually 15 to 40 years–mesothelioma usually strikes people in their 50s through 70s. While it is a tragedy at any age, it is especially heart-rending when mesothelioma kills someone as young as Amanda Sutterfield–who was only 25 years of age. How could this happen?
According to plaintiff Doug Satterfield, his daughter was exposed to asbestos fibers from the cradle–and possibly the womb. Amanda Sutterfield was born prematurely on 7 September 1979. At the time, her father was employed by ALCOA, which has been a defendant in other asbestos actions. Starting in 1980, the company transferred him to the North Plant, where he worked with and around “asbestos containing thermo-coupling and furnace insulation.” This is yet another case in which an employee inadvertently and unknowingly brought asbestos fibers into the home, carried on work clothing and in the hair. Similar cases have been heard in Washington State and in Illinois; the Washington State court determined that the employer could indeed be held liable for asbestos injuries resulting from such “secondary exposure.”

Doug Sutterfield is seeking $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages against ALCOA and Breeding Insulation, which manufactured the asbestos-containing materials to which Amanda was ultimately exposed. The suit was first filed in 2003, shortly after Amanda’s diagnosis. Lawyers for the corporate defendants managed to drag the case on for three years before Judge W. Dale Young of the Blount County Circuit Court dismissed the case. Meanwhile, Amanda died on 1 January 2005. Sutterfield’s attorneys filed an appeal, and the lawsuit was reinstated by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in April of last year, billing ALCOA for the costs. The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that ALCOA deliberately concealed information about asbestos danger when, in February of 1983, the corporation implemented a policy that excluded any mention of asbestos exposure in employee health records. Doug Sutterfield says, “It’s not about money–it’s about what’s right. It’s about justice. She didn’t choose to die from this.” Although the Illinois court dismissed a similar suit, the fact that the Tennessee court reinstated Sutterfield’s action and the precedent set by the Washington court strongly indicate that Amanda will be vindicated and another corporate criminal brought to justice.