In this podcast, Paul Kelley from the personal injury law firm, Satterley & Kelley, talks with John Maher about asbestos exposure at a Eaton Cutler Hammer plant in Bowling Green Kentucky. Kelley explains the work conditions that lead to the asbestos exposure, and he tells listeners how to get help if they or a loved one developed cancer or mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. And I’m here today with Paul Kelley. Paul is a partner with the Kentucky personal injury law firm, Satterley & Kelley, which has over 30 years of collective experience in handling cases involving mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. Welcome Paul.
Paul Kelley: Morning John. How are you doing today?
John: Good. Thanks. So Paul today, we’re talking about asbestos exposure at Cutler Hammer Eaton in Bowling Green, Kentucky. So what is Cutler Hammer and where are they located?
Paul: So thanks for asking. I wanted to talk about this one a little bit because we have probably represented close to a dozen clients who’ve developed mesothelioma that worked at Cutler Hammer plant located in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It opened up in 1965. It was a large plant covering many, many football fields worth of territory. And it was a plastics manufacturing plant.
Cutler Hammer is a big electrical product manufacturer. It made a wide variety of products, but probably the most prevalent are circuit breakers and panel boxes. It made products for industrial locations. It made products for the home. It made products for the military and in 1978 Eaton Corporation bought Cutler Hammer. And so Cutler Hammer became a division of Eaton and the plant in Bowling Green that we’re here to talk about today became an Eaton plant.
But the bottom line is that it was located in Bowling Green. I think the plant did eventually close down in the 1990s, maybe early 2000s, but it was open for about 35 to 40 years. And it was a significant employer in Bowling Green, Kentucky for a number of years. I wouldn’t want to represent the exact numbers, but I think it’s fair to say that it employed thousands of people on that plant over three and a half decades.
John: And how is Cutler Hammer related then to asbestos and to mesothelioma cases?
Paul: There’s a number of ways. So Cutler Hammer was built or the building opened in 1965. So it was built over a period of years in the early 1960s. And certainly in that timeframe, a plant like that would’ve been built with a lot of asbestos containing products. The most common of course, would be thermal insulation that’s installed on the piping and the boilers that are in the facility. Historically thermal insulation contained high concentrations of asbestos. Oh gosh, going back to the 1940s and 50s and into the 1970s.
And so that plant has had documented evidence of thermal insulation being used as a construction product. And so anybody that worked in maintenance for example, would be exposed to asbestos in that manner. Certainly other people that contractors that came in that worked on the piping or worked on any of the associated equipment would have exposure to the thermal insulation in that manner.
And so that’s one. But if that’s all there was we might not be having this conversation. The most prevalent type of exposure that occurred at the Eaton Corporation or the Cutler Hammer plant was something called phenolic molding compounds. I first learned about phenolic molding compounds in that plant dating back to 2003, we represented a gentleman who worked in a variety of positions in that plant, maintenance was one. He worked on the assembly line in other instances, but we learned a little bit in that case about these molding compounds. And so the molding compounds, I told you a moment ago, that Cutler Hammer made plastic products.
Some of our listeners may have heard of something called bake light. It’s a generic term, but it refers to a finished plastic product. And that’s what all your circuit breakers and panel boxes and other electrical equipment were made of at one point in time was of a plastic material.
And so Cutler Hammer made a lot of its own plastic parts that it would ultimately incorporate into other pieces of equipment. And one way that it did was using these phenolic molding compounds. So we learned in that case with that particular individual in 2003, that it was something that existed. That these molding compounds were something that were used and that it was something done in that plant. But we learned more about it as we started to see more cases of people that worked in that plant. Now, keep in mind, John, that mesothelioma is an exceedingly rare disease. There’s only 3000 people a year in the United States that are diagnosed with that condition. That’s not a lot when you compare it to other types of cancer, when you compare it to other disease processes that people suffer from.
And so for one employer to have more than one mesothelioma over any period of time, that’s something that raises the antenna, because that seems to indicate that there’s some sort of exposure there that is unique and certainly significant. So we started to see, another case or two in 2006, 2007, and then since 2009 through now we’ve probably had more than a dozen people who have worked in some capacity of the Cutler Hammer plant or their spouse or child who worked at that plant from the time that it opened through the 1980s that developed mesothelioma. So when we started seeing these cases we thought, well, gosh, not everybody was in maintenance, not everybody was an outside contractor or an electrician and got into the rafters and work.
Paul: So we wanted to figure out what those other kinds of exposures were. So we started, what’s called the discovery process and we engaged in discovery with Eaton, which means we asked Eaton for documents and to take depositions of their corporate representatives and plant managers and other personnel. And we found out that there were several companies that supplied these molding compounds to the mold room at Cutler Hammer in Bowling Green.
And then we started engaging in an investigation with the companies that supplied the products. And we found out that from at least 1965 until probably the mid 80s, that they supplied asbestos containing molding compounds to Cutler Hammer. And particularly that facility in Bowling Green. And a lot of the people that were exposed were either the people that were the molders. So they operated the machines or the people that assisted in that process.
Now I’m trying to come up with a way that the people can understand. These molding machines are as big as a room. I mean, they can be 20 feet high, they can be 30 or 40 feet wide. And they would take barrels, drums, 55 gallon drums of these powdery molding compounds. They’re like oats. So, when you make your morning oatmeal, they’re like oats and they come in pellet form and they would dump these molding compounds into a giant hopper. So just like you’re mixing something to bake a cake or cookies. Well, they’re pouring these compounds into a giant hopper and those compounds stirred up massive amount of dust when that happened. And everybody in the room is being exposed to that one.
Well, there were dozens of these molding machines that were in this facility and there’s dozens of people that were running the machines. There’s people that were called setters, and they basically were in charge of doing the setup, including doing the pouring of the compounds. And so what we started to see when we got the first case, it was a maintenance person.
Okay. Well, the likely exposure there is going to be that thermal insulation. Well, the next person that came in was the spouse of somebody that worked in that mold room. Well, what did he do? Was he exposed to insulation? I mean, possibly, but that seemed like a bit of a stretch. So we found out that he had worked in that mold room for a number of years, probably even after they stopped using the asbestos, but certainly for 20 years.
And then the next case that came in was somebody that worked in the mold room. And then the next case that came in and you understand the point, that we started seeing way too many people that worked, not just for the same employer, but the same location for a period of time.
And they were exposed to asbestos in this way. And then of course they developed this cancer, years later and down the road. And so, what we’ve done over the years is we’ve identified all of the manufacturers of the products over a period of time. They had, I mean, they made hundreds of products. I mean, hundreds of products in that plant and they were all based on a formula. And so the formula would have a certain amount of the phenolic molding compounds and other dyes and other products that would go in. And so we’ve been able to establish over the years, the various manufacturers that provided these molding compounds at various points in time, in some of these molding compounds contained different types of asbestos. And that’s kind of important for our listeners to understand that there are six different fiber types of asbestos.
And the three that we see commercially in the United States are chrysotile, amosite, and crocidolite. They all cause cancer. So it really, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. However, there are some studies out there that indicate that crocidolite has a higher incidence of mesothelioma than those other fiber types. And so some of these compounds contain that type of asbestos and our folks were exposed to those levels for quite a few years. And so we’ve developed a lot of evidence and proof concerning the manufacturers of those products. And we don’t need to get into it today because it’s probably beyond what we want to do, but they were aware.
I mean, all those companies were aware that their products could potentially cause fatal cancer, likely would cause fatal cancer. And we are actually aware of other instances where people that made the compounds also developed mesothelioma and their family members also developed mesothelioma.
But unfortunately the asbestos products were used in the Cutler Hammer plant probably until about 1985, maybe a little bit beyond that. So what that means is, is that there’s a population of people of that plant who were young people in 1980, 85 and are probably not particularly old today, 60, 65, 70. And unfortunately there’s still a risk of contracting this disease because of what’s called the latency aspect of mesothelioma. What that means is, it takes a period of 20, 30, 40 years for people to develop cancer from their first exposure to diagnosis. So I expect that several people that worked in the mold room or had interaction with people that worked in the mold room, like their family members, their spouse, their children, even other plant workers that might have had some routine reason to be in the mold room, I expect them to develop cancer.
Too many people have already. And the product was used too long. And the common comments that we get when we talked to people that worked in those plants is that they had no clue. They had no idea that those molding compounds contained asbestos. And so when I tell them that they did, and we know they did, and we can prove they did. Most of them convey shock and dismay. They can’t believe that they went to their job every day and used something that seemed particularly harmless. They trusted their employer, they trusted the products that they were using, and if they hadn’t come to talk to us, they would’ve never known that these products contained asbestos and they would’ve never known that that’s what caused them to contract mesothelioma. And for those families and for those victims, they would’ve never gotten compensated for the devastation that they had to suffer as a result of just going to work every day.
John: Right. Are there lists of the people who worked in the mold room for all of these years? And should those people be contacted or have they been contacted to let them know that, “Hey, you might have been exposed and you should be watching out for this.”
Paul: It’s tough to say if there’s a list of people. We certainly have identified a lot of people over the years. Unfortunately, when some of these victims come to us, it’s really, the family that’s come to us because they’ve already died from cancer. And so we have to try to put the case together using their coworkers. And so we’ve identified and tried to get the word out every way we can. The molders were part of the union, I think the machinist union down there. And so we’ve tried to get the word out to those folks as best we can. That’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this today is we want for people to understand, I mean, there’s nothing that we can do anymore to prevent the exposure. That’s happened. And I’m sorry that it happened.
And the good news is the vast majority of people that were exposed will not develop this cancer. And that’s certainly the wonderful part of it. But unfortunately, some people will, and we’re just trying to get the word out to let people know that otherwise wouldn’t have found out that there was an exposure there. It was a significant exposure, and it’s something that they need to be concerned about. And while there’s not much that anybody can do in terms of preventive medicine to prevent this disease from occurring at this point, just having the knowledge that there was an exposure and being able to take it to their doctors and say, look, I’m fine. Everything’s good. But I just found out that I was exposed to asbestos for 20 years in this plant and doctors can start monitoring them on a yearly basis so that something does develop, early detection is a big deal with this disease.
We’ll possibly talk about this in another podcast, but it’s an aggressive cancer and there’s various types of it. And knowing that you have the cancer as early as possible, is a huge key to either beating it, which is rare, but it does happen or successfully treating it so that people can still enjoy a long quality of life post diagnosis. The worst thing that happens is developing it, not knowing it, not having any reason to know it and getting diagnosed 10 months in and at that point, it’s virtually impossible to envision a scenario where there’s going to be a good outcome. And so, obviously medicine can only do so much, but early detection is important and education on how to detect it I think is critical. And in order to do that, we want to get the word out that that plant was… At this point in my career I believe we’ve seen more mesotheliomas out of that plant than any other single location in the state of Kentucky. And so people need to be aware of that, particularly the former workers and their loved ones.
John: Absolutely. So if you were an employee at the Cutler Hammer plant and you have developed lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma, what should you do? What’s the next step?
Paul: Well, there’s obviously the medical steps and that’s not us, but certainly because of what I mentioned a moment ago, mesothelioma is rare. It’s very rare and while there’s a lot of mesotheliomas diagnosed in Kentucky, from a medical standpoint, Kentucky’s not one of the hotbeds of mesothelioma research and treatment. But certainly medical treatment is the most important. I mean, I tell everybody that comes to me, who ultimately retains our law firm, that there are two things that are going on in their life.
Number one is their medical care, their medical situation. And that’s what they need to worry about. Number two is any potential litigation, lawsuit that’s going to be filed. And if they hire us, that’s our concern. And that’s what we’re going to worry about. Time is always of the essence, John.
And I hate to say this, but given the limited prognosis for people with this disease, if they have been diagnosed with this cancer, once they develop their medical plan, they should contact an attorney immediately. And of course we would like for Satterley & Kelley to be considered for that.
But given the passage of time, witnesses are often no longer available. If the victim is able to give a deposition and to explain how their exposures were, that’s the greatest key to success. Nobody else lived their lives. Nobody else did the jobs they did, the exact jobs that they did. And so it’s important to go ahead and begin that process. There’s no obligation for anybody to do anything. If somebody doesn’t want to file a lawsuit or pursue that, certainly they don’t have to, but time is always of the essence. And I would strongly recommend seeking the advice of an attorney immediately because the passage of time, only benefits the wrongdoers.
John: Right. And obviously it helps to be able to get testimonials directly from the person who was exposed. Like you said, they’re the ones who knew exactly what they did in their job and where they might have been exposed. But we are talking about cases where the exposure happened again, 30, 40, years ago. Is there some sort of a statute of limitations on filing a case against Cutler Hammer Eaton given the time that’s gone by since the exposure?
Paul: So there is, and it’s pretty harsh. In Kentucky, we only have a one year statute of limitations. Now, what that means is that we have one year from the date that we know or should know that there’s an injury and know or should know the cause of that injury, but it’s a practical matter. The day of diagnosis is a critical moment. And we certainly try our best to file a case within one year from the date of diagnosis, because then there’s no legitimate dispute that somebody didn’t file their case timely.
But again, because of some of the problems we’ve identified, it’s not obvious to some people how they got their disease. They didn’t know that these molding compounds contain asbestos. And so we have something called the discovery rule that can sometimes extend the statute of limitations. So the person can file a lawsuit a year from when they knew or should have known what caused their disease.
But to be on the safe side, I always say, try to get something filed within a year. If the person’s passed away already, then it’s a hard one year from the date that someone has been appointed the personal representative over their estate. And so that’s a one year date from then, no more than two years from the day to death. So it seems like a lot of time, but it’s not. And so the sooner that we can get started conducting our investigation, the sooner we can get a lawsuit filed. If somebody was diagnosed today and they came to me next Monday, we probably would have a lawsuit filed within the week because it’s that important. And we don’t want to run the risk of a statute of limitations issue, and we don’t want to run the risk of losing evidence that exists today, but might not exist tomorrow.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thank you, John. I appreciate it.
John: And for more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the Law Firm of Satterley & Kelley at satterleylaw.com or call 800-655-2117.