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Danger, warning sign: Contains Asbestos Fibers

Mass Tort Attorneys

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure Mass Tort Lawyers

Asbestos has long been popular for its heat and fire-resistant properties. The first known use of asbestos dates back around 4,500 years in Finland where it was used to strengthen cooking pots and utensils. Widespread use of asbestos in industry began in the 1850s. Mining of asbestos was started in 1858 by the Johns Company and in 1874 the first commercial mine opened in Quebec, Canada.

During the remainder of the 19th century and through the early 20th century, the use of asbestos increased rapidly. The mining of asbestos spread around the globe with Russia starting in the 1880s and South Africa in 1893.

Asbestos risk recognized

Health risks posed by asbestos exposure were first identified as early as 1899. The first asbestos-related death was recorded in 1906 when an asbestos factory worker Nellie Kershaw died in 1924, prompting a formal inquest. The pathologist, William Edmund Cooke’s testimony reported old scarring ‘similar to that of a prior bout of tuberculosis coupled with fibrosis on a large scale. There was also a presence of “particles of mineral matter”. He compared these particles to samples of asbestos dust and concluded that the particles found in the lungs actually originated from asbestos and undoubtedly they were the main cause of lung fibrosis causing the death.   

As a result of these findings, Parliament called for an inquiry by Dr. E.R.A. Merewether and C.W. Price. Their report, presented to Parliament in 1930, irrefutably linked asbestosis with the inhalation of asbestos dust. The report followed a clinical examination of hundreds of asbestos industry workers and concluded that:

  • 66% of the workers employed for 20 years or more suffered from Asbestosis.
  • It was a disease of latency; symptoms did not begin to manifest until many years after exposure to asbestos.
  • Dust given off by finished asbestos products had to be controlled and reduced to the greatest extent possible.

Regulations introduced

Dr. Merewether’s findings led to the introduction of regulations in British asbestos factories aimed at protecting the workers. The regulations were, however, not extended to downstream industries that used asbestos products.

During the 1940s the link between asbestos and mesothelioma was first established. Despite the ever-increasing body of medical evidence linking asbestos to asbestosis and mesothelioma, the production and use continued unabated.

Documents dating from the 1930s and 1940s indicate that there was an awareness in the industry of the dangers of asbestos exposure and its association with asbestosis and cancer in the lungs. This was, however, kept secret. It was only during the 1960s that the extent of asbestos-related disease became clear in the US. This evidence was supported by the findings of several other studies conducted during the 1960s and by the end of the decade the tide started turning.

Compensation cases gain momentum

1967 saw the first personal injury claim succeed in the UK. The case went to appeal and in 1971 the appeals court upheld the verdict. In 1969 the UK amended and significantly tightened its asbestos regulations. The US finally started implementing legislation in 1970.

Over the ensuing years, more and more regulations were introduced, and more and more mesothelioma lawsuits succeeded. Many countries phased out the use of asbestos and more than 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos outright. Asbestos is, however, still widely used in many countries. Russia alone produced more than a million tons of asbestos in 2016.

Since the first successful claim in 1969, and the failed appeal in 1971, many more lawsuits were filed across the US. A 1986 change in the law in New York State extended the statute of limitations to three years. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of cases filed. Such was the extent of asbestos-related illness that, to this day, almost no single day goes by without a compensation claim being contested somewhere in the US.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the first mass tort lawsuits. Levy Konigsberg LLP was one of the first law firms to take on asbestos cases in the 1970s. Later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, they played a pioneering role in the large-scale amalgamated trials that included the Brooklyn Naval Yard and Con Edison Powerhouse.

Options for victims

There are several different ways that a victim can initiate a claim. The most common approach, historically, is for an individual to sue a plaintiff on a one-to-one basis.   When there are multiple victims, sometimes hundreds or even thousands, this approach is extremely cumbersome. Every single claim requires all parties to be present, with the full complement of witnesses, experts, and jurors.

Although not a modern invention, consolidated litigation is now a quite common approach in many countries when multiple victims have been wronged in the same manner by the same defendant. Group litigation is believed to have been almost the norm in medieval England from around 1200AD onwards.

Various changes to the application of laws and the introduction of the concept of corporation between the 15th and 18th centuries effectively killed group litigation in England. In the US, the concept of class actions lawsuits was established in the early 1800s by Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story.

Again, as is the norm, various changes were made over time, culminating in a major revision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in 1966. From these changes emerged class action litigation as it is practiced today.

Class action or Tort?

Group litigation can be fought as a class action or a mass tort. The key difference is that in a tort, each plaintiff has to present those facts that are pertinent to their claim. In asbestos claims, therefore, each plaintiff must show where, when, and how they were exposed to asbestos and must also show a direct link between the asbestos exposure and their diagnosis. In class actions, all the plaintiffs are represented under a single set of facts.

In a nutshell, a class action is a single lawsuit being tried on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. Every plaintiff’s claim is more or less identical or at least very similar. Compensation is usually divided equally amongst all plaintiffs or claimants.

With mass torts, on the other hand, all plaintiffs file their suits individually. Individual cases are contested together because they are sufficiently similar. Compensation, though, will be determined based on the extent of each plaintiff’s injuries or demonstrable damages.   

Although a large number of victims have filed claims through a mass tort or a class action, there is no silver bullet here. Group litigation may be far more efficient and may result in higher compensation than an individual suit but this is not necessarily so.

There are a number of important details to consider when contemplating a mesothelioma lawsuit. Firstly, and most importantly, there is a statute of limitations specific to asbestos-related claims. This statute varies by state and also by the type of claim. Typically, the statute varies between one and four years. The timeline commences from the date the diagnosis is made or the death of the victim.

Claims can be instituted to cover all actual medical expenses incurred as a direct result of the illness, related travel expenses, and lost future income. In the event of wrongful death claims, funeral expenses are also eligible.

All claims must be supported by a diagnosis and proof of asbestos exposure.  It bears noting that there is no statute of limitations on the exposure as symptoms can manifest after as much as 50 years.

In many cases, the defendants have set up trust funds. These funds are intended to provide for future claims. Victims may be eligible to claim compensation even if they were not a party to the original litigation.   

Any person who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or who believes that they may be eligible for a claim should consult a specialist asbestos lawyer to determine the most suitable options.  Contact the personal injury law firm for a free case evaluation: 954-951-0000.

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