In this podcast, Paul Kelley explains how employees of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company may have been exposed to asbestos that causes mesothelioma. He explains what they and their family members can do to get compensation for this deadly disease. He also talks about how Kent cigarette smokers were affected.
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. Today, we’re talking about mesothelioma cases at P. Lorillard Tobacco Company. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Hi, John. How are you doing today?
John: Good, thanks. So, Paul, what is the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company, and where are they located?
Paul: Well, the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company was a cigarette manufacturer. It’s still in business today. I believe it’s been bought out by a couple of different companies, but the timeframe that I want to talk about is the early to mid 1950s here in Louisville, Kentucky.
And once upon a time, Lorillard was a cigarette manufacturing plant in Kentucky where it manufactured Kent cigarettes and Old Gold cigarettes.
Lorillard had manufacturing plants in places other than Louisville, certainly North Carolina and some other states. But the location that I’m going to discuss today was right here in the heart of downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
John: And how is Lorillard Tobacco Company related to asbestos and mesothelioma cancer cases?
Paul: Well, it’s very interesting. In the early 1950s, Lorillard collaborated with another company to manufacture a filter called the Micronite filter that was going to be used as the filter for Kent cigarettes.
And as it turns out, that filter contained asbestos. So what would happen is the supplier of the filter material sent it to Kentucky in this instance, and Lorillard took that filter material and cut it and manufactured it, and affixed it to the Kent cigarette.
We have represented a lot of different people who have worked at the Lorillard plant here in Louisville, and we’ve also represented a lot of people who smoked the Kent cigarettes. And in a couple of circumstances, we’ve represented people whose father or mother worked at the Lorillard plant, and they ended up contracting mesothelioma.
It was a pretty small period of time, but an amazingly large number of people contracted this disease that worked at that plant.
John: You mentioned before that, Lorillard manufactured cigarettes under a bunch of different brand names. Was it only the Kent cigarettes that had this particular type of filter?
Paul: It was only the Kent cigarette, and it was 1952 to 1956 that they manufactured it. I believe that they took it off the market officially in 1957. But it was only the Kent cigarette, and it was advertised all over the place as the safe cigarette, because the Micronite filter was supposed to protect people from the carcinogens ordinarily contained in cigarettes. Unfortunately, the material that was supposed to protect people from carcinogens was also a carcinogen.
John: And so you mentioned that both smokers of these cigarettes and workers at the Lorillard Tobacco Company were potentially exposed. How were the employees at Lorillard Tobacco Company exposed to asbestos?
Paul: A lot of different ways. So there was something called the plug room, and the plug room is where they actually made the filter. So again, this filter material, it came in on rolls, and they would take it into the plug room, and there were numerous different procedures involved. But essentially, they’re cutting these materials, just hundreds, thousands at a time.
They’re cutting it and they’re cutting it in small enough sizes that ultimately, would be small enough to affix to a cigarette. So the people in the plug room who operated the plug machines, who brought the material into the plug room, who carried the materials out of the plug room, were all exposed to massive levels of asbestos as a result of that process.
Then people who actually made the cigarettes. So the filter material would go into another department and it would be affixed to the cigarettes. And they had cutting machines. So imagine a big cigarette wrapper. And two cigarettes really came from one wrapper, and they were cut down the middle where the filter was, and then you have two cigarettes. And one cigarette would go one way on a machine and another one would go the other way.
So people who operated those machines, people who were there for the process… This was an automated process. Thousands per hour of these cigarettes were cut right at the filter, creating all kinds of dust for people to be exposed to.
We’ve also represented a number of other people that were tray handlers. So they retrieved the finished cigarettes. A lot of those cigarettes were busted and broken and they had exposures through that process.
And then there were some people that their job was just to deal with the broken cigarettes. So they had to collect them. They had to rip them open, empty the tobacco out because they couldn’t waste that tobacco. That would be a sin in the tobacco industry.
So they saved the tobacco. They discarded the filters. Somebody had to do that work, and this is something that happened in that plant, day in day out, for over four years.
John: Okay. So if you were an employee at the Lorillard Tobacco Company during this period, and you have lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma, can you sue Lorillard for your exposure to asbestos?
Paul: Yes and no. Typically speaking, you couldn’t sue Lorillard as your direct employer. However, many people smoked cigarettes that worked there, and so to the extent that an employee went to the grocery store or wherever you went in the 1950s to buy cigarettes and they smoked Kent cigarettes, they could file a suit against Lorillard for exposure from smoking the cigarettes.
They cannot sue Lorillard for their exposure that occurred during work because of Kentucky worker’s compensation laws.
John: Okay. And is there a statute of limitations on filing a case against Lorillard Tobacco?
Paul: There would be a statute of limitations for filing suit against Lorillard. It’s typically one year from the date of diagnosis.
There are some exceptions to that rule. We have something called the discovery rule in Kentucky. People have one year from the date they know or should know that they’re injured. So the diagnosis of mesothelioma would be a good indication they’ve been injured. And then one year from the date, they know, or should know what the cause of that injury was.
Sometimes that’s a lot harder because a lot of people don’t know where they’re exposed. And if somebody worked at the Lorillard plant in the 1950s, they may not have had any idea that they were working with an asbestos product.
And one other issue before I forget, John, is that there was the supplier that I talked to you about. The supplier can be sued. They don’t get the same protections that Lorillard did. So the company that supplied the asbestos filter material that Lorillard employees ultimately used to make this filter, those companies, those suppliers are still viable defendants and can be held accountable for causing people this terrible disease.
John: So you have a different avenue that you can go after in terms of getting recovery for damages, even though, like you said, because of Kentucky law, you can’t directly sue your employer?
Paul: That’s correct.
John: Okay. And then there’s the case where maybe you weren’t an employee at the Lorillard Tobacco Company, but you just smoked these Kent cigarettes during this period from 1952 to 1956. And if that’s the case, could you sue Lorillard for your exposure?
Paul: Absolutely. There’s been a number of cases throughout the country under that very scenario. And Lorillard can definitely be held accountable to people that thought they were smoking the safe cigarette, when in fact, it turned out they were smoking something that had two carcinogens in it.
John: And you mentioned at the beginning that Lorillard has been bought out by one or two different companies since then. Is there any issue with going after those companies now, since Lorillard itself doesn’t exist anymore?
Paul: It has no impact on anything. The successors are still responsible for Lorillard’s prior products, prior activities. And so to the extent that someone suffered an exposure, whether it was a former employee, it was a smoker only, or perhaps a child or spouse of someone who worked at Lorillard has zero impact on the ability to hold those companies accountable.
John: All right. That’s great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Excellent. Thank you, John. I appreciate it.
John: And for more information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, visit the law firm of Satterley & Kelley at satterlylaw.com, or call (800) 655-2117.