In a lawsuit filed in Madison County, Michigan, on 21 September 2007, Herschel Belt names 46 different corporations as defendants whom he alleges are responsible for the asbestos to which he was exposed over a 31-year period. An insulation worker, Belt was employed by the Heat and Frost Workers Union Local 37 of Evansville, Indiana, between 1965 and 1996. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma last summer.
As is usual in these complaints, the suit alleges that the “plaintiff’s exposure and inhalation, ingestion or absorption of the asbestos fibers was completely foreseeable and could or should have been anticipated by the defendants.” Belt’s case is similar to those of many other industrial workers, including that of automotive worker Robert Cooper, whose case was reported on 5 September. Like Cooper, Belt is seeking $550,000 in damages for willful negligence, conspiracy and significantly, “spoliation of evidence”–the purposeful destruction or withholding of documentation that might have been useful in pursuing action against other defendants. Yet another, nearly identical suit in Madison County Circuit Court was filed on 27 September 2007 by Michigan resident Alvin Stebner.
Stebner worked as a fireman, water tender, electrician, utility man and engineer between 1943 and 1987. The complaint alleges that he was exposed to asbestos fibers during that time, resulting in a diagnosis of mesothelioma on 7 September 2007. Stebner’s suit names 92 different corporate defendants. Because of the nature of asbestos litigation, it is rare that action is taken against a single defendant. Until around 1980, asbestos was commonly used in a wide range of industrial applications in which heat or fire posed a hazard. Such products were made by numerous companies, many of whom have since gone bankrupt, or have been acquired by other companies. In the case of the latter, the company who takes over, acquires or purchases a second company accepts the latter’s liabilities–including any potential injury claims against it. Like the circuit court Kanawha County West Virginia, Madison County seems to be getting more than its share of asbestos complaints this year. Although some sources believed that asbestos litigation peaked in 2005, indications are that the health, economic and legal consequences of asbestos will continue for decades to come.