No one should have to work in a hazardous environment just to get a paycheck. Unfortunately, hard-working Kentuckians continue to be exposed to asbestos in workplaces across the state.
You may think that it’s only power plant employees or people in similarly high-risk environments who are at risk — but that’s simply not true. In reality, you can be exposed to asbestos that causes mesothelioma in almost any industry when employers engage in negligent practices.
In a recent case, a Kentucky man and his wife sued brake remanufacturer, Brake Supply Company, Inc., and three other brake lining manufacturers after developing mesothelioma caused by asbestos-containing brakes they manufactured and sold. The exposure occurred more than 30 years prior to the Plaintiff’s diagnosis.
This case illustrates why asbestos exposure continues to be such a pervasive problem in Kentucky, and throughout the United States — particularly, how multiple parties may be involved in negligent practices that lead to workers being exposed to asbestos. This both increases the risk of asbestos exposure for workers and complicates the process of holding the answerable parties accountable.
However, that doesn’t mean workers who develop mesothelioma have no recourse. With a top Kentucky mesothelioma lawyer on your side, it’s possible to identify the responsible party and hold them accountable.
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that form in bundles of very thin, microscopic fibers. Asbestos is heat and fire resistant, and it was used in many manufactured products, most notably the following:
- Building insulation
- Roofing shingles
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Plastic products
- Cement products such as wallboards
- Automotive parts, including brake linings, pads and clutches
- Heat-resistant fabrics
- Packing and gaskets
- Cigarette filters
Unfortunately, after widespread use over many decades, it was discovered that asbestos is highly carcinogenic—specifically when asbestos fibers are inhaled or swallowed.
When an asbestos-containing product is disturbed—which can happen during the mining and processing of the asbestos itself, as well as any manufacturing that employs asbestos, and construction, renovation, or cleaning of asbestos-containing structures—asbestos fibers are released into the air.
Exposure to disturbed, airborne asbestos fibers can lead to cancer and other conditions in several parts of the body.
If inhaled, the asbestos fibers enter the lungs, and often travel through the lungs and the airway passages to the pleura, a thin membrane covering the lungs. Asbestos fibers are harmful to pleural cells, and pleural injury caused by asbestos can lead to pleural mesothelioma over time. Asbestos can also cause other forms of lung cancer, as well as lung scarring (asbestosis). Asbestos that is swallowed, meanwhile—whether outright, or because it is initially inhaled and then coughed up and swallowed—can lodge in the peritoneum, the layer of tissue lining the abdomen. Asbestos is similarly harmful to peritoneal cells as it is to pleural cells, and exposure over time can lead to peritoneal mesothelioma. A third, less common type of mesothelioma that is sometimes caused by asbestos exposure (among other potential causes) is pericardial mesothelioma, which begins in the membranes surrounding the heart (the pericardium).
Mesothelioma tends to have a very long latency period, or the time that it takes between exposure to carcinogen (in this case, asbestos) and the development of symptoms. Because of this, by the time mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is often fairly advanced. This contributes to the prognosis most mesothelioma patients face: the five-year survival rate is just 10 percent, and life expectancy is typically between four and 18 months after diagnosis.
From 1999 to 2017, there were more than 3,100 asbestos-related deaths in Kentucky, despite the fact that there are no known naturally occurring asbestos deposits in the state. That means if you were exposed to asbestos in Kentucky, it likely came from exposure to asbestos—whether in the workplace, in a product, or second-hand (i.e., exposure to asbestos through fibers brought into the home on the clothes, hair, and skin of exposed workers).
Most older homes contain asbestos somewhere. Whereas prospective homebuyers can commission asbestos inspection and owners can hire abatement professionals, workers and students aren’t so lucky. In addition to homes, asbestos is a common presence in a vast array of workplaces, schools, and other public buildings. When construction occurs on these buildings, asbestos fibers are often disturbed and sent into the air, where those working in the buildings and seeking services in the buildings (including students) are sometimes exposed to asbestos.
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in their life in small amounts, as it is present in the air, water, and soil. However, some people are more likely to encounter asbestos than others, meaning their risk of developing mesothelioma is higher.
Many factors affect whether asbestos exposure leads to mesothelioma, including dose, duration, type of asbestos, and source of exposure. People who are exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period of time while they are young, as is the case in many workplaces where asbestos exposure occurs, are more likely to develop mesothelioma.
In addition, the lifestyle and genetic makeup of each individual contributes to risk of mesothelioma. Scientists are still researching the exact individual risk factors for mesothelioma beyond exposure, but they appear to include exposure to other carcinogens (including zeolites, radiation), exposure to other diseases (such as Simian Virus 40, or SV40), individual behaviors (such as smoking), and in rare cases, gene mutations (i.e., a mutation in the BAP1 gene).
The most significant risk factor for mesothelioma is prolonged exposure to asbestos, which most often occurs in the workplace. Although people in many occupations may encounter asbestos, the following workers are at an especially increased risk for developing mesothelioma:
- Demolition workers
- Construction workers
- Lathers (construction specialists who make frameworks)
- Steel mill workers
- Paper mill workers
- Bricklayers and brick kiln workers
- Boilermakers or boiler engineers/repairmen
- Automotive workers and mechanics
- Aircraft mechanics
- Manufacturers of asbestos products
- Drywall removers
- Power plant workers
- Plumbers and pipe fitters
- Foundry workers
- Merchant marines
- Navy Yard workers
- Millwrights (repairmen for industrial machinery)
Women and Mesothelioma
Since mesothelioma exposure primarily occurs as an occupational hazard in industries that have traditionally been male-dominated, most mesothelioma patients are men.
However, women can also get mesothelioma, and a recent study by the CDC actually found that rates of mesothelioma deaths among women are actually rising at a faster rate than mesothelioma deaths among men.
Only a very small number of women with mesothelioma are exposed to asbestos “traditionally” (i.e., while working in one of several mostly male industries). Instead, asbestos exposure in women tends to come from three main sources:
- Exposure in the Home: Sometimes, workers who were directly exposed to asbestos unknowingly bring asbestos fibers back home with them, putting other people in their households at risk of developing mesothelioma—especially if they handle or are responsible for cleaning the asbestos carrier’s work clothes. This is referred to as secondary exposure to asbestos, which is carcinogenic in the same way that secondhand smoking is carcinogenic.
In addition, women are sometimes exposed to asbestos through home renovations. Up until asbestos use in home construction was largely banned in the late 70’s, many homes were built using asbestos, largely employed as insulation and on tiling and siding. Repairs or renovations to homes can disturb the asbestos fibers that were formerly contained within the house and sent them into the air to be inhaled or ingested over time.
- Exposure at Work: Beyond the conventional industrial, construction, shipping, and military jobs that work more directly with asbestos, there are many other fields where a person may be exposed to asbestos at work.
Some women develop mesothelioma from exposure in these workplaces, often while performing their jobs in fields such as healthcare, social work, and education. Asbestos exposure is often caused by renovations on the older buildings where those jobs are located. Women may also be exposed to asbestos while working in factories where asbestos is used in production or manufacturing.
- Environmental Exposure: A smaller number of women may be exposed to asbestos to high concentrations in their environments, usually because they live close to an industrial facility where asbestos is processed or manufactured or used in processing or manufacturing. This type of exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma as well as other cancers (especially endometrial cancer).
Mesothelioma is more prevalent in certain counties in Kentucky than others. The populations of Anderson, Boyd, Campbell, Fayette, Henderson, Jefferson, Kenton, McCracken, Marshall, and Warren counties are at significantly higher risk.
As mentioned above, one of the greatest tragedies of mesothelioma is that symptoms take a long time, sometimes decades, to appear. That means that by the time mesothelioma patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma, holding the responsible party accountable and getting the compensation they deserve may be difficult. However, it’s much more doable with the right legal representation.
In partnership with an experienced, knowledgeable mesothelioma attorney, the first move will be finding the responsible party — typically the company — that exposed the mesothelioma patient to asbestos. After a thorough investigation, your lawyer will identify the source of your exposure and name the defendant. They will try to gather and present evidence that shows that the defendant was aware of the asbestos and failed to warn the mesothelioma patient about the dangers.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, starting a lawsuit is probably the last thing you want to deal with. However, there are many good and necessary reasons to do so, including the following:
- You need to pay for medical care. Cancer treatment can be wildly expensive and could leave you and your financially devastated. This is especially true if you are uninsured, but is also true if you have insurance coverage, as there are often significant gaps in coverage that can leave mesothelioma patients with unmanageable bills.
- You don’t want the company to hurt anyone else. Too often, companies will continue on with negligent practices if it saves them money, even after becoming aware that they are exposing their employees and others to a highly carcinogenic substance. By filing a lawsuit, you could be preventing the company from endangering future employees.
- You’ve lost or will lose wages. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to work as the cancer progresses. The same is true for your family members, who may have to leave their jobs temporarily or even permanently in order to help care for you. The responsible party should compensate you accordingly.
- You’ve experienced tremendous pain and suffering. Whether you’ve lost a family member to mesothelioma, or you are the one personally suffering, mesothelioma causes a great deal of pain. Your lawyer should take this into account when calculating your settlement.
Although perhaps the most common, these are far from the only reasons to pursue a mesothelioma lawsuit. The fact of the matter is that if a company caused your cancer, it should be held liable for all of your losses, tangible and intangible.
If you’re like most Kentuckians, when you go to work, you work hard; you give your all to your employer every single day. So when you company’s knowingly expose you to asbestos that results in you developing cancer, it’s a slap in the face.
As long as companies continue to expose workers to asbestos, the experienced mesothelioma lawyers at Satterley & Kelley will be there to fight for them. We’ll use all of our resources to investigate your situation, compile evidence, and present a compelling case for your compensation.