In this podcast, Paul Kelley from Satterley and Kelley talks with John Maher about mesothelioma at GE Appliance Park in Louisville, KY. He explains who may have been exposed to asbestos at this facility. Then, he outlines what to do if you have mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
John Maher: Hi, I’m 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 mesothelioma at General Electric at GE Appliance Park, in Louisville, Kentucky. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Morning, John. How you doing today?
John: Good, thanks. Paul, tell me a little bit about General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville.
Paul: Well, General Electric’s Appliance Park in Louisville is a massive facility that was… I believe they started building in either 1951 or 1954. It has dozens of buildings, and as you can probably surmise from its title, they made a lot of appliances there. They made refrigerators and ovens, stoves and furnaces and eventually microwaves and all kinds of different appliances at that facility.
And it was one of the biggest employers in the City of Louisville for many, many years. At the risk of misrepresenting, there were thousands of employees that worked at Appliance Park at one point, and I think it peaked in the 1980s. Now, over the last 20 or 30 years, its employment has dwindled and I think they’ve actually sold the park to another company. But at one point in time, it would be hard to imagine somebody not knowing three, four or five people that worked at Appliance Park. It was a huge employer and a huge manufacturer of products.
John: And how was General Electric related to asbestos and mesothelioma cancer cases?
Paul: Well, unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of having a massive facility like that is that it was loaded with asbestos. It was built at a period of time where the predominant insulating material was asbestos. Appliance Park, it’s many, many acres. The buildings are tens of thousands of square feet. There are miles and miles and miles of asbestos insulation. It was located in every building at Appliance Park. All the manufacturing buildings. They had warehouses, they had offices. All those buildings were loaded with asbestos painting, pipe insulation.
They had furnaces in some of the buildings that manufactured or were used to manufacture various products. Those furnaces were loaded with asbestos insulation, fire brick, and other refractory material that contained a lot of asbestos into the 1970s and perhaps 1980s. In some of the buildings, not every one of them, but some of the buildings, they had a molding operation. They made a lot of plastic parts. They liked to do a lot of that in-house as much as they could, I think.
And so something called phenolic molding compounds were used to manufacture some of these plastic parts. And the phenolic molding compounds contain asbestos. Wiring cable that was used in the plant that GE actually made for a period of time, I think in the ’50s through the ’70s, a period of time they actually made their own wiring cable to contain asbestos. And then they used it in its various manufacturing plants like at Appliance Park. Some of the GE and wiring cable that it actually made was used at the plant.
Some of the appliances they made contained insulation in the inside walls. It was intended to retain heat so people wouldn’t burn themselves and to keep heat inside the piece of equipment. So, people that actually made some of the appliances there, had to work with this asbestos insulation for a period of time.
John: For appliances like ovens and things like that?
Paul: Yeah, ovens and refrigerators, predominantly ovens. So, those are predominantly the kinds of products. You’d also hear about things like gaskets, all these pipes, these many miles of pipes. A lot of times, they’d have asbestos gaskets that connected two pipe segments together, and then those contained asbestos for a period of time to the 1980s. There would be just various vessels and tanks, things that carried chemicals. Anything that generated steam would’ve been insulated with asbestos.
So, there were miles and miles and miles of pipes. And either the entire straight line pipe, meaning the length of the pipe or the joint of the pipe, contained asbestos. And that probably changed over the years from all asbestos to just the joints to contain asbestos to finally they phased it out and no new asbestos. But if you walked in that plant today, there’d still be a lot of asbestos installed on those steam lines. They’re just covered today.
John: Right. It sounds like almost anybody who worked at GE Appliance Park during that time could have been exposed to asbestos. But were there some particular types of employees that might have been particularly exposed to asbestos-containing materials?
Paul: The main people, I think there’s kind of three groups, and we’ll toss out, for the time being, the people involved in construction. A lot of the people that were involved in construction were going to be outside contractors that built the building. And they were certainly exposed during the initial construction of the plant. And again, it took more than a decade to build all those buildings at Appliance Park.
But once the plant’s in operation, I mean, the maintenance people, they had a lot of exposure. They were exposed anytime anybody needed to work on any of the piping. A lot of times the maintenance, people would do that themselves. Sometimes it would be pipefitters working in conjunction with the maintenance folks. Sometimes there were insulators that actually worked at the company that would’ve had exposure. Sometimes, there were outside insulators, meaning a contractor that came in to work on some of the insulation.
But we’ve seen a lot of situations, particularly in the ’60s and ’70s timeframe, in the ’50s too. But we’ve seen a lot of people who just worked on the line, they’re just on the assembly line and they were exposed to falling insulation. Meaning it was falling because it had deteriorated or it was falling because somebody was working on it and they weren’t taking any particular safeguards to dispose of it properly.
And so somebody might be, on the assembly line, making a refrigerator, and there’s insulation that’s falling down on them while they’re just doing their job. That was pretty common. Then certainly, I mentioned before, that there were people that were involved in molding compounds or molding products using the phenolic molding compounds, and that was always a dusty operation. They had hoppers that they poured the materials in and it produced a pretty substantial amount of dust.
We’ve represented a half a dozen people or so that were exposed in that very way. And one of the common things that I’ve been told by them and their coworkers is that kind of dust just proliferated through the plant. There really wasn’t any way to avoid it. But certainly, the people that directly handled the phenolic molding compounds and directly operated those molding machines, they were exposed to a substantial amount of asbestos.
There were millwrights. Millwrights typically were not General Electric employees. They were typically outside contractors. But the millwrights frequently came into that plant for major demolition and removal or installation of conveyor systems. And lots of these conveyor systems were connected to those big furnaces that I talked to you about earlier. The furnaces were hot operations, the products moved through, they were painted, and sometimes products were run through a conveyor system through the furnaces for final finishing.
And so we’ve represented quite a few of the millwrights who were involved in the destruction and tear out of giant furnaces there. Those furnaces were loaded with asbestos insulation, asbestos fire brick and refractory material. And these were furnaces that were 20 by 20. I mean, they were huge furnaces, and took a long time, many weeks, months, to perform the tear out. A lot of millwrights that worked in that plant were exposed both to the firebrick and the insulation on these furnaces, and then they were also exposed to the steam lines and piping that was connected. So, that was another way that people were exposed.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the appliances were made with asbestos products. The ovens, for example, for a period of time, had some insulation. It was in between the walls. People that handled those were exposed. Lots of the ovens in particular used wire cable inside the ovens, and all of that contained asbestos insulation.
So, they’d have to take a knife and strip the insulation from the wire in order to make connections. And then they were typically pretty enclosed, tight spaces, so they’d be exposed in that way. You had laborers, the poor laborers, the workers of those plants, they typically had the dustiest, dirtiest jobs and they had to go through and clean up anything and everything that was used during the plant over the course of their shift.
And so for example, if you had a laborer who worked in just one of the buildings that had an assembly line, and I talked earlier about insulation that used to fall down and then that happened, they’d have to clean that up and just put it into a dumpster or a trash can.
John: Yeah, they’d just be sweeping it up and then picking it up and dumping it, and probably dust is getting everywhere. Yeah.
Paul: Absolutely. And then in some circumstances, they use compressed air to blow the machines off that had accumulated dust, and then they’d have to sweep that dust up. That was common. People that worked in the molding department, the laborers and the cleaning crews, they had to come in. It was the same deal.
I mean, nobody really knew, I mean not the employees, knew that those compounds contained asbestos, so they poured the materials in. They didn’t particularly take any care to make sure that all the materials got into the hopper and some of it didn’t spill out. So, whatever accumulated on the floor, the machinery, the laborers would’ve to clean that up, and then they’d get a substantial amount of exposure.
I wouldn’t say that every human being that worked on that plant was substantially exposed all day, every day. But a significant number of people that worked there from the 1950s to 1980s, if they worked in the molding operation, if they were insulators,, maintenance people, the laborers, pipe fitters, I mean, they had a substantial exposure on a regular basis for many, many years.
And nearly all of them, or probably all of them, really didn’t know that they were being exposed until many years later when it became a little bit more common knowledge as to what type of products were reused in a plant like GE.
John: If you were an employee at GE Appliance Park and you have lung cancer or asbestosis or even mesothelioma now, what should you do?
Paul: Well, John, I think everybody needs to get their medical care under control. All these diseases are significant. There is a different prognosis for each one. Asbestosis tends to move very slowly for a lot of people, and quite frankly, for a lot of folks, it may not really materialize into a debilitating disease. For some, it will. Lung cancer, of course, is very treatable if it’s caught early enough, and treatment is sought early enough, and then the cancer can be removed, the lung can be removed, and people can live for a long time with one lung.
Mesothelioma is tougher. Well, there’s no cure for mesothelioma, but it’s important to go to your physicians to conduct research to determine the best treatment options for you. Do you stay in Louisville? Do you go to someplace like Brigham and Women’s in Boston or MD Anderson in Houston? Do you have surgery? Do you stick with chemotherapy? These are such critical decisions, and certainly something that’s not easy for people to deal with, particularly with the difficult prognosis for some of these diseases.
But it’s also important to talk to a lawyer. There have been dozens of cases that have been filed from General Electric’s Appliance Park. My law firm or some prior version of our law firm has been litigating cases out of that plant for more than 30 years. We’ve represented more than a dozen people with mesothelioma. We’ve represented dozens of people with asbestosis, and a handful of people with lung cancer. We know pretty much all the manufacturers, all the contractors.
We understand things about General Electric as a manufacturer itself. It’s located in the plant. We know the manufacturers and suppliers of the molding compounds. We know the contractors that put asbestos in. We know the engineers and the architects of the facilities that specify asbestos.
But it’s important, particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s got a difficult prognosis. Most folks unfortunately pass away within six months to 18 months from the date of diagnosis. We are very sensitive to the fact that it takes a period of time to process this diagnosis and get a good treatment plan in place, but time is always of the essence. We want you to be able to give a deposition in your case, testify about what your exposures are, explain to all the at fault parties, what it is that they did to you. That is very important, and not just important for the outcome of the case. It’s important for people to be able to tell their story and to explain what’s happened to them.
And I find that a lot of my clients have gained peace from just simply being able to tell people what happened to them. I think it’s important that people come talk to a lawyer. We would like for you to come talk to us. We have experience with mesothelioma cases in Kentucky, and we have an expansive experience litigating out of the Appliance Park Plant. It’s not an easy case for a variety of different reasons, but it’s certainly a case that can have a positive outcome for people with this disease and their families.
One thing that I didn’t mention before, John, is we’ve had a lot of family members of employees from General Electric that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. And the reason why I bring that up is because those people may have no clue as to how they were exposed to asbestos. And their husband or their wife or their mom or dad worked at the plant for 30 years and brought asbestos home in their clothing. And that’s how the family member was exposed.
And we’ve had a lot of experience litigating that kind of case from Appliance Park, and it just doesn’t jump out at people because they were a teacher or an accountant or whatever the case may be, but they did not work in that kind of setting where it automatically would come to the forefront of their mind that they were exposed in that way.
John: And if it was somebody like a father, a mother, they might have just thought, “Oh yeah, my dad worked at the GE plant,” but maybe they don’t even know exactly what they did or why they could have possibly been exposed.
Paul: Absolutely. And one of the things that we’ve accumulated over the years is a lot of testimony from a lot of different people. I know this almost seems impossible, but I have found depositions of people that they gave when they were witnesses, and then 30 years later they’re diagnosed with the disease and we have an old deposition that they gave in 1989 that helps them in their case. Or maybe it wasn’t them, but it was their coworker.
They tell me, “Oh, I worked with Jim Smith and I searched my database.” And I’m like, “Oh my goodness. We took Jim Smith’s deposition in the ’90s, and then he gave us a lot of good information.”
It’s unfortunate, and I wish that the people had all the time in the world to be able to make decisions on their own time, but the brutality of mesothelioma is simply that you don’t have that luxury. And so it’s important to talk to a lawyer. I feel very confident that if somebody came to me today, I could get a lawsuit on file pretty quickly for many of these diseases, and we could move in the right direction to get their case to trial hopefully in a relatively quick period of time.
John: And another time constraint that you’re under is the statute of limitations. What’s the statute of limitations on filing a case relating to asbestos exposure at GE?
Paul: Sure. In Kentucky, the statute of limitations is one year from the date that you know you have an injury, and also know or should know the cause of that injury. But typically, we go by the date of diagnosis. You can’t go wrong there.
There are situations sometimes where people don’t know that we have something called the Discovery Rule in Kentucky, which could allow you potentially to file your case beyond the year, if you can establish that you just didn’t have any reason to know where you were exposed until six months after your diagnosis.
One other important deadline is if the person dies before they file their case, there’s still a case. The family can still pursue that case for them. And that statute of limitations is going to be one year from the date that an estate is opened. So, if somebody passes away, the spouse can’t pursue a lawsuit in the decedent’s name, it has to be the estate for the decedent. The spouse would have to go and be appointed the executor of the estate and then we’d have a year from that date, no more than two years from the date of death.
I get this question a lot, “What happens if mom or dad or my spouse dies before we file the case? Is there just no case?” And the answer to the question is no. There’s still potentially a case, but again, it’s still very important to come talk to a lawyer immediately so we can figure it all out because that case is a little harder to investigate if the injured person has already passed away.
John: Right. And if you’re already in the middle of that case and then the person passes away, do you then have to become an executor of their estate and then does the whole process start over again?
Paul: Yes, to the first question. You have to open an estate in order to continue the case. It doesn’t start over again. There’s kind of what we call a stay of the proceedings, and then as soon as the estate is set open, the case is revived, it picks up where it left off before the stay occurred.
I’ve had situations before where if we have a trial date already and that trial is six months down the road and somebody passes away and we get the estate set open, we can still potentially get that case to trial within the original timeframe. But absolutely, the case can and will continue as long as that’s what the family wants to occur.
John: Okay, that’s 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.