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Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer [05/17/2006]
The Kahn Gauthier Law Group is investigating possible legal actions on behalf of persons harmed by exposure to asbestos. It is estimated that half a million legal actions have been filed to recover for injuries and deaths resulting from asbestos. Most of these actions have been brought against manufacturers and distributors of materials or products that contained asbestos. Some of the actions have been filed against the owners of mines where workers were exposed to asbestos in their employment. All of these actions seek compensatory damages for the injury or death caused by asbestos, and many seek punitive damages as well.

The dangers of asbestos have been recognized for a long time. In 1906, 50 deaths were linked to asbestos dust from a weaving mill. Yet asbestos was widely used in construction, particularly in public buildings and naval shipyards, until the 1970's. While the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate asbestos in the environment, the EPA is generally unable to regulate consumer exposure to asbestos because of a 1991 lawsuit by U.S. and Canadian asbestos companies.

Asbestos is a mineral. It is mined in much the same way that other minerals are. There are many varieties of asbestos; the three most common are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. The first commercial asbestos mine opened in Quebec, Canada, in the 1870's. Unlike most minerals, which turn into dust particles when crushed, asbestos breaks up into fine fibers that are too small to be seen by the human eye. When left intact and undisturbed, these materials generally do not pose a health risk. There is a serious potential for health damage when the asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled. These microscopic fibers can severely damage the lungs.

One study estimated that 3,000 different types of commercial products contained asbestos. Asbestos was first used in the United States in the early 1900's, but it was not until the early 1940's that it was used extensively. Health hazards from asbestos dust have been recognized among workers exposed in shipbuilding trades, asbestos mining, asbestos manufacturing, insulation work, automotive brake repair, electrical workers, welders, plumbers, HVAC workers, roofers, and other trades.

Family Members May Be At Risk

There is evidence that the family members of people who worked with asbestos face an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. This is thought to be a result of exposure to asbestos dust brought into the home on the shoes and clothing of workers.

The legal actions to recover for asbestos injuries are being filed in state and federal courts across the country. Most of the actions brought in federal court have been transferred to one federal court in Pennsylvania. There, those actions have been combined into one huge and very complex litigation. That court has ruled that, at least for the time being, the court will consider only compensatory damages claims, and will not address claims for punitive damages.

Medical Consequences of Exposure to Asbestos

Researchers have identified three diseases that are associated with inhaling asbestos fibers:

(1) Asbestosis is a non-cancerous lung disease first found in navel shipyard workers. As asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may become trapped in the lung tissue. The body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid. Due to the chemical resistance of the fiber, this acid does little to damage the fiber, but it may scar the surrounding tissue. Eventually, this scarring may become so severe that the lungs cannot function. It may take 25-40 years for asbestosis to develop.

(2) Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura (the outer lining of the lung) or the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal wall). It can also occur in the testicles or the heart. The only known cause of this type of cancer is asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma can take 15-30 years to appear. Non-malignant mesothelioma can be removed surgically and is not necessarily related to asbestos.

(3) Lung cancer and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract can also be caused by asbestos. These cancers can take 15-30 years to develop.

Obstacles to Financial Recovery

Asbestos victims should be aware that a number of factors may make recovering a judgment difficult. One is the increasing number of defendants--the asbestos companies--who are declaring bankruptcy. This shields them from many claims. The other factor is the statute of limitations that each state has. The statute of limitations is a state law that requires legal actions to recover for an injury to be brought within a certain number of years after the injured person discovered the injury. The various states set varying numbers of years as the deadline for bringing an action. The states also use different tests in deciding when the injured person became aware of his or her injury.

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