In this podcast, Paul Kelley from Satterley and Kelley talks about asbestos exposure at Louisville Gas & Electric. He explains how employees and their family members may have been exposed. Then, he outlines what to do if you have been affected.
John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher. 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. Today we’re talking about Louisville Gas & Electric, and mesothelioma. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Morning, John. How are you doing?
John: Good, thanks. Paul, what is Louisville Gas & Electric?
Paul: Well, broadly, Louisville Gas & Electric is a power company. And it pretty much covers power in the Louisville, Jefferson County area and surrounding counties, and has for quite some time. It’s owned by a bigger company now, but everybody in this area of the state recognizes Louisville Gas & Electric, or LG&E, as the company that provides us with power.
John: Okay. And how is Louisville Gas & Electric related to asbestos and mesothelioma cancer cases?
Paul: Well, predominantly Louisville Gas & Electric operated power plants starting many, many years ago, close to 100 years ago. But there are two particular power plants that have been well-known sources of asbestos exposure. One is the Cane Run power plant, the other is the Mill Creek power plant. And those power plants were loaded with a variety of asbestos containing products, insulation, boilers, and turbines that were heavily insulated, and they had asbestos-containing fire brick, refractory material, and gaskets.
Asbestos gaskets were loaded all throughout the plant to connect pipes and on various pieces of equipment. Asbestos packing was stuffed into valves that were used to control the flow of steam through the facility. There was wiring cable connected to the panel boxes, various pieces of electrical equipment, the turbines, all of that wiring cable for a pretty significant period of time contained in asbestos insulation.
There were panel boxes and control boxes that were made from asbestos containing phenolic material called a bake light material that contained asbestos. And then all sorts of tanks and vessels that carried chemical processes, steam processes that were all insulated with asbestos. There was a variety of products, probably from the 40s all throughout the 1980s, and perhaps even into the 1990s that contain asbestos of those power plants.
John: So asbestos was used pretty extensively throughout the power plants, but how were employees at LG&E exposed to that asbestos?
Paul: Quite different ways. The Cane Run plant, for example, that consists of, I believe, six units… Now, when I say six units, that means there are six different sections of the plant that have a boiler and a turbine. The boiler essentially creates the steam, and the steam goes to the turbine, and the turbine is what essentially creates the electricity.
So there were six of those units at Cane Run. It took 15 to 20 years to build all of those various units. The boilers themselves are six, eight, maybe 10 stories tall. And then take a pretty substantial period of time to build. One way that Louisville Gas & Electric employees were exposed is during the construction of the various units. They had outside contractors that certainly constructed the facility. They had outside engineers and architects that designed the facility, but there were certainly LG&E personnel that were present during the initial construction of each unit at the power plants.
Well, once a unit became active and operated, then there were Louisville Gas & Electric employees there that were during the operation of a particular unit. Well, then the next five at Cane Run, and I believe at Mill Creek, there were four units. Those other units are being constructed, and so people in there operating the plant are exposed during the construction phase. And so what’s being installed during the construction phase? All of the things that I mentioned.
These power plants have miles of pipes that contain steam lines, and those steam lines are insulated with asbestos. So employees that are in the area are exposed to the cutting, the sawing, the application of the insulation to the steam lines. They are exposed to the application of the fire brick, which contains asbestos, into these giant furnaces or boilers. They are exposed to the insulation that is installed onto the turbines.
They have to cut and saw all those kinds of materials, and it created a substantial amount of dust. One way people were exposed was during the construction phase. Well then once the building’s in operation, as you can imagine, there’s a significant amount of maintenance that has to occur. And so a steam line goes out, somebody has to go in and remove the insulation and then fix the steam line.
Well, they had insulators there that did that. They had pipefitters that did that work. So the people that helped maintain the facility. They had electricians that worked on the turbines. A turbine’s a very sophisticated piece of equipment. It had to be in operation, they couldn’t have downtime, certainly of all six units. And so electricians would work on these turbines and they would be exposed to the insulation that was on the turbines.
They might have to remove a piece or somebody would have to remove it for them, and they would be exposed in that way. The wire and cable I mentioned earlier, a lot of those turbines had panel boxes and control equipment that contained asbestos containing wire and insulation. And so electricians would be exposed, pipe fitters would be exposed, the maintenance people would be exposed. There were a wide variety of people that it takes to operate a powerhouse.
You’ve got the control operators and all of the boilermakers, and the boiler operators, and people that operate the turbines. And cleaning crew, commonly called laborers. You had engineers that came into the plant. And so all of these people are exposed one way or the other during the construction phase, during maintenance activities, also during what we call overhauls. They were frequently, usually on a yearly or maybe every two year basis, they had to completely refurbished the inside of the boiler. So all that refractory and fire brick that contained asbestos had to come out, and then it had to go back in.
And at least until the mid 1970s, early 1980s, they just used new asbestos to replace the old asbestos. And so anybody that worked in those power plants, say from the 1950s to the 1980s, I think it’s practically impossible for them to avoid exposure in some meaningful, substantial way to asbestos at either of those two facilities.
John: Right. And you said that during the construction phase, they would build one of the boilers and bring that online, and then they would be building the next one and then the next one, and then the next one. So there’d be for a period of years perhaps where they’d be construction of some one of the boilers going on.
And then after they’re all online, then they’re doing maintenance on one or the other of these boilers. It just seems like constantly there’d be either something under construction or something being maintained, or something being overhauled, and there’d just be almost no escaping it.
Paul: That is a very accurate description. It took 15 years to build Cane Run, maybe 10 years to build Mill Creek. So absolutely, they tried to keep the construction separate from the operation, but quite frankly, it was impossible. Based on descriptions that I’ve received from our clients and their coworkers, the powerhouse is a very dusty, dirty place. And they’re constantly working on all of these various pieces of equipment, including the piping.
And I would say that on any given day somebody was disturbing asbestos containing materials at those facilities for a very long period of time, and most of the people that worked at these plants worked there for a very long period of time. Twenty-five, 30 years is the norm for the LG&E employees that I’ve represented over the years, and I think that was a pretty common experience for most folks. It’s virtually impossible that if you worked at one of those powerhouses, either during the construction or during the overhaul with any of the pieces of equipment, it’s virtually impossible that you weren’t exposed to asbestos.
John: We know that asbestos exposure can lead to diseases like mesothelioma. If you were an employee at LG&E and you have lung cancer or asbestosis or mesothelioma, what should you do?
Paul: Well, certainly the most important thing for anyone to do who’s been diagnosed with one of these diseases, is to get their medical situation under control, make sure that their doctors understand the environment in which they worked. It’s not necessarily critical to the treatment of mesothelioma that the physicians know the precise details of exposure, but it can’t hurt, and it’s important to be able to provide the doctors with accurate information.
But certainly, I think it’s important to understand your legal rights. We’ve represented a number of people, and sadly, probably more than 10 or 15 people that have worked at these facilities who have been diagnosed with some form of asbestos disease, many of them with mesothelioma, many with lung cancer, quite a few with asbestosis. And then there are companies, manufacturers of products, and contractors that are still out there that can be held responsible for causing the disease.
We’ve sued manufacturers of products. We’ve sued the engineer architect who designed the powerhouse, and the construction companies that assisted. And so it’s critical to talk to a lawyer, talk to someone that has experience with these particular locations to get a better understanding. Because I think there’s a lawsuit there, and I think there are definitely companies that can be held responsible for causing this terrible cancer, or some of these other diseases.
The big problem, John, with mesothelioma in particular, is it’s very aggressive. It will require a substantial amount of treatment, there is no known cure for this cancer. And so the average life expectancy, unfortunately, is only six months to 18 months from the time of diagnosis. So if you are interested in pursuing a claim and understanding your legal rights, I know you have a lot of important things to worry about with respect to your health, but it’s important to hit the ground running and to talk to a lawyer so that we can make a decision together as to what’s the best plan of action for you under this unfortunately terrible circumstance you’ve been presented with.
John: Given that you have to move so quickly on this, is it important to have a lawyer like yourself who really knows LG&E? And like you said, you know exactly who those subcontractors are that designed or installed these boilers, and the pipes and things like that. As opposed to working with somebody who would have to maybe start from scratch and try to figure out all of that information.
Paul: Absolutely. If somebody came to me today and said that they were exposed to any of the kinds of things that I’ve mentioned today, I could probably have a lawsuit drafted and filed within the next two or three days. We’ve litigated out of these plants more than a dozen times. We really don’t have to do a lot of what’s called discovery to get information concerning the types of products that were there, the manufacturers that were there.
We’ve conducted all of that already, and we would really be in a great position to be able to hit the ground running and to expedite the process. Unfortunately, John, our legal system is fantastic, and we have terrific judges, and I can’t say enough about our judicial system. The only drawback is that things take time.
And right now if I have a case and it’s already filed, and then I have the plaintiff’s deposition and the plaintiff being my client, and I go to court and I ask for a trial date, even the most sympathetic judges are going to say, “Mr. Kelley, I can’t get you a trial date for a year.” And then the defendants, there might be 10 defendants, which means there are 10 other lawyers’ schedules to deal with. And inevitably, some of those lawyers are going to say, “Well, I can’t try the case in February of 2024.”
And then before you know it, it’s May, June, July. And that’s tough. But the reason why I bring that up, the sooner we get started, the sooner we can get to that part, because we understand what the time limitations are with respect to the court. And it takes somebody three, four months to investigate and figure out who to sue, that’s three or four months later than what your trial is going to be.
And that’s three or four months later than a resolution of the case. Because most defendants will not settle, even consider settlement of a case, unless there’s a trial date staring them down and they know that they’re going to have to either settle the case or try it. And sometimes they don’t settle. And if they don’t settle, that means we get a trial date. But time is always of the essence, and whenever I get any type of mesothelioma case, whether it’s Louisville Gas & Electric or some other place, the ultimate goal for us is to get that case filed as quickly as possible so that we have a chance to get that case to trial while our client is alive, still generally healthy and able to participate. And at least can have that peace of mind that resolution has been had during their lifetime, and that they’ve been able to take care of their family.
John: Right. Another time constraint that you’re under is the statute of limitations. Can you talk a little bit about the statute of limitations on filing a case relating to asbestos exposure at Louisville Gas & Electric?
Paul: Absolutely. It’s generally one year from the date that you know or should know you have an injury, and also know or should know the cause of that injury. Typically speaking, my best advice to anyone is go a year from the diagnosis date. If you’ve been diagnosed with asbestosis or mesothelioma, it was caused by asbestos exposure, so you know what caused your injury.
Lung cancer has some other causes, but if you were exposed to asbestos and you know it, go by that date. There are some exceptions to the rule, but you can’t go wrong. As I mentioned before though, John, a year is the deadline, and you got to get it in within that year. But if you come to us, we’re getting that case filed as quickly as possible, perhaps even within a matter of days because of all the issues that I’ve identified about the difficulty of getting the case to trial and the dire situation that most of our clients are in, and trying to expedite a resolution for them.
But sometimes they don’t come to us until 10 months after their diagnosis and we’ve got to hustle to make sure that we get the case filed. And it’s just important. A lot of people don’t realize that they don’t have that much time to file a case. Some states have a longer statute of limitations, Kentucky does not. Very important to talk to a lawyer immediately upon diagnosis so that you make sure that you can get your case filed on time.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thanks, John.
John: And for more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the law firm of Satterley & Kelley at satterleylaw.com. Or call (855)-385-9532.