Recent large legal settlements in the Northeast highlight the continuing legacy of mesothelioma and asbestos exposure for U.S. industrial workers.
Courts in New York and New Jersey have awarded more than $8 million dollars in recent weeks to workers who contracted mesothelioma from working around asbestos. A naturally occurring mineral once mined by the ton, asbestos can become deadly when inhaled or ingested. Its tiny rock-like fibers lodge in the lungs or other organs, triggering inflammation that can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma over time. Mesothelioma can take 20 to 50 years to develop and is very difficult to cure.
Asbestos was used in many products including the roofs and wallboard of houses, oven mitts used in kitchens, the boiler rooms of ships, and the brake pads of cars.
Richard Schuderer worked on tugboats for the New York State Department of Transportation from the 1950’s until 1991. As an oiler, it was his job to scrape off and repack valves and fabricated gaskets which contained asbestos. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2008 and died just over a year later. A New York jury recently awarded his family a million dollars, putting the blame for his disease primarily on the John Crane company which manufactured the gaskets on which he had worked.
At the same time, a 55 year-old New Jersey electrician received a $3.72 million settlement from the company that manufactured electrical products he used for years. Because of its heat and flame resistance, asbestos was commonly used as an electrical insulation. Howard Bird continues to fight the mesothelioma he contracted because of it.
In another New Jersey case, 75-year-old former carpenter James Johnson won more than $3.3 million from the manufacturers of the asbestos-containing products he used for years. Johnson, who also has mesothelioma, sued several of the employers for whom he did carpentry work. Johnson specialized in installing ceiling tiles, which were once commonly made of asbestos because of its fire retardant qualities. It is estimated that as many as 3,000 different construction products once contained asbestos and hundreds of thousands of workers may be at risk because of it.
Both the Bird and Johnson cases were settled shortly before their cases were set to go to trial.
“V’land man awarded $3.72M asbestos settlement”, November 15, 2010, The Daily Journal.
“Mesothelioma: Jury Awards $1 Million Dollars to Asbestos Victim”, November 13, 2010. Press release.