People who worked at Square D came into contact with molding compound dust containing asbestos. Asbestos causes mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. In this podcast, Paul Kelley talks with John Maher about what former Square D employees and their family members should do if they’ve been affected.
John Maher: Hi, I am John Maher. I’m here today with Paul Kelly. 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 Square D in Lexington, Kentucky. Welcome, Paul.
Paul Kelley: Good morning, John. How are you doing?
John: Good, thanks. Paul, tell me a little bit more about Square D and what it is that they do.
Paul: So, Square D has historically been a company that manufactures a variety of electrical parts. You’re probably familiar with circuit breakers and starters and motors and things that go into an electrical panel box, or go into a big transformer. And, they had a plant in Lexington, Kentucky for many years.
It’s closed down, is my understanding now. But, for many years, Square D had a plant and they made electrical parts for things that go into your homes, for things that go into commercial properties and industrial properties and things of that nature.
John: Okay. And how is Square D related to asbestos and mesothelioma cancer cases?
Paul: So, Square D, the plant here in Lexington, Kentucky, it made a lot of these plastic parts that go into electrical panel boxes and transformers, and they made all those plastic parts right there in the plant. And those plastic parts were made from asbestos products.
And so, there was something called phenolic molding compounds, sometimes called phenolic resins, and it was a powdery or pellet material that usually came in drums or bags. And, they had a room in there that molded these parts. And so, what they would do is they had hoppers, and the hoppers are where the powder was fed into the machine and, using pressure and heat, the molding presses can press these parts into a plastic piece. And, frequently, the plastic piece is just what we call a pre-mold. And then the pre-mold is sent somewhere else and it makes the finished product.
And so, what was occurring in the Square D facility is this mold room, there were many molding machines. And, there were many operators and there were many people that were involved in this process. And so, the hoppers are just big open mixing bowls. So, imagine if you’ve got a kitchen mixer and it’s open and you take a bag of flour and you dump it into the mixer.
Well, that’s essentially what happened there, is these molding compounds were poured into these mixers. And, when that happened, I mean, dust went everywhere. It was impossible to contain the dust. Again, similar to the flour analogy. I mean, if you dump that bag of flour into that mixing bowl, you’re going to get a poof of flour in your face.
John: Sure. It gets right up in your face. Yeah.
Paul: That’s right. And so, that’s exactly what happened with these molding compounds when they were put into these hoppers. And again, you’ve got a dozen or more people that are doing that all day long, every day. And again, they’re ripping bags open. And, this is not a criticism of them, but they’re not being all that careful that everything’s getting into the bowl. Sometimes they’d use forklifts and other equipment to dump these big barrels in.
The barrels are big, 55-gallon cardboard barrels. And it’s the same concept. You just dump them in and all this dust is going everywhere. And it’s going everywhere into the face of the people that are doing the dumping. It’s going into the face of the people that actually run the machines. It goes into the face of the people that are cleaning, and ultimately anybody that walked into the room. And we’ve represented several people that have worked in that plant.
And I think one of the issues that’s been most striking to me is that there was nothing to prevent that dust from leaving the molding operation and proliferating into other areas of the plant.
And so, there might be somebody over in assembly that really doesn’t have anything to do with that part or that operation, but they’re getting dust exposure 100 yards away. There are supervisors and engineers and other crafts that would go into that room and get exposure, even if it was for a brief period of time, but they were frequently doing it. So, a big source of exposure there was the molding compounds. And, over the years we’ve developed evidence demonstrating that the manufacturers of those products manufactured them with asbestos. And there were all kinds of different types of products. And not every one of those products contain asbestos, but the vast majority really did. And people would get a lot of exposure that way. Also, it’s a manufacturing plant, and it was built, I think, in the ’60s early or maybe even the ’50s. I think it was built in the ’50s, John.
And so, back in that timeframe, most every industrial plant was built with asbestos. And so, we’ve heard of other products that have been manufactured that contain asbestos that were in the plant. Thermal insulation that went around pipes and heating ducts and other pieces of equipment, floor tile, ceiling tile. Some of the machines contain asbestos. There would be machines there that contain brakes, that contain asbestos and gaskets and a wide variety of construction products. So, those are the two ways that Square D has been connected to asbestos and mesothelioma cases over the 25 years or so that I’ve been doing this.
John: Right. So, how and when were employees then exposed to asbestos? It sounds like it could have been almost anybody who worked there at the plant.
Paul: Absolutely. So, these products were used, the phenolic molding compounds were used for sure in the ’60s, the mid-’70s timeframe. And, I think they ran that operation two, three shifts. I’m pretty sure it was a 24-hour plant, and they ran molding all three shifts.
And so, certainly the people that were directly associated with molding the parts, they were heavily exposed. There were folks who were called setup men or setup people, and their job, they didn’t run the machines, but they set everything up and they were frequently the ones that actually dumped it into the mixing bowls. They were exposed frequently.
There were also people that worked on what we call a “finishing” department. And so, when these plastic pieces, when they’re finally molded, they’re not perfect. And so, they still have excess plastic on them that doesn’t need to be there. And it not only doesn’t look good, but it may actually have an impact on whether it fits into the bigger part that they’re putting them in.
So, they actually had a whole finishing department where they either hand-filed the plastic off, or they had something called a wheelabrator, that electrical piece of equipment that would scrape all of the excess plastic off. And so, the people that did that job were heavily exposed when they did that.
You had people that were involved in cleaning. And lots of times it was the operators and the setup people, but you’d also just have other people whose job, they were laborers and their job was to clean. And so, they’d come in with vacuums and air compressors and brooms and dustpans. And you can’t get rid of asbestos with just a regular vacuum cleaner. You can’t get rid of asbestos with a broom.
John: Because you’re sweeping all of that dust up that settled onto, say, the ground and then you’re dumping it into a trash can or something like that. And then, again, you’re getting that poof of dust probably in your face.
Paul: Absolutely. And they’re using compressed air to blow off their machines, to blow off their bodies, because all that dust would get on their clothing. And, obviously, when you’re blowing dust around, you’re not removing it, you’re just recirculating it, so that everybody in the area can get bigger exposure.
These products that were being made there, I mean, they’re sophisticated products and they were designed by engineers and they were part of a bigger product. So, engineers would come in all the time to make sure that the products are being manufactured pursuant to specifications. And engineers are in there when they’re pouring the materials in.
They’re in there handling what are called the pills or the preforms, and those pills and preforms still contain dust. They’re in there when they’re being filed and sanded and drilled and cut. And so, those kinds of employees were getting exposed. You’d get the supervisors who aren’t doing the work hands on. They’re getting exposed.
Then later on, a lot of these products go into an assembly area. And sometimes those products had to be drilled into or cut into, and they’re getting exposed from drilling into it. Imagine drilling into a piece of wood if you’ve ever done that, or seen it done. I mean, some of the wood particles are going to come into your face.
The same issue is true with these plastic products. If you’re drilling into it, if you’re sawing into it with a bandsaw or something like that, you’re going to get some dust exposure. We have seen people whose spouses or children ultimately developed mesothelioma from washing or having contact with the employee’s clothing.
So, it gets on their clothes from working there all day, and then they take it home to their wife or husband or children and they get exposed. And then it comes into your house. And, again, once it’s in your home, particularly when you’re bringing it home every day, then you can never get rid of it. It’s in your house and there’s no Hoover vacuum that can remove asbestos dust.
And so, it’s one of those situations where you certainly have your people that are heaviest exposed, the people that work in there and handle the products, but most everybody in the plant who worked there for any long period of time received substantial exposure on a frequent basis.
John: Yeah. So, if you were exposed to asbestos and at Square D, and now you have lung cancer or asbestosis or mesothelioma, what should you do now?
Paul: Definitely after you get your medical situation worked out as best as possible, because mesothelioma in particular, and certainly lung cancer, are frequently fatal. And, taking medical action and being as aggressive as your doctors have recommended is certainly the biggest task facing anybody. But certainly, what I’ve come to know from our years of experience of handling asbestos cases, is there is a slew of defendants that are responsible for causing your exposure.
And consulting with an attorney who can protect your interest and develop a course of action that’s appropriate for you, I think should be task number two. Task number one, deal with your medical, and devise a plan to deal with that. But task number two is to work towards holding those accountable for what caused your cancer. And we’ve had the fortune over the years to represent a lot of good, hardworking folks that have worked at that plant and have developed cancer, or their loved ones worked at the plant and developed cancer, and certainly know what to do the second that such a case comes in.
So, identifying someone that has experience with mesothelioma cases, identifying someone that has experience with this particular plant, I think, is certainly critical to what you want to do moving forward. And then, certainly retaining somebody that you feel comfortable with, that you feel like is going to do the best job possible protecting your interest, I think is certainly key. And identifying anybody and everybody that might be able to help prove your case. And these plants, this plant I think had hundreds if not thousands of employees during its peak. And there’s a lot of people that worked with you that are still around and probably suffered the same types of exposures and are more than happy to provide information that maybe you don’t have.
Time is always of the essence, and I think it’s important to move quickly, as quickly as you possibly can. Once you retain your lawyer, if it’s somebody that’s dealt with this plant before, or certainly dealt with mesothelioma claims, they should be able to hit the ground running and take action immediately, and let you focus on the things that you need to focus on, which is getting and staying as healthy as you possibly can. You hire me, I worry about your case, you worry about your health.
John: Right. And, speaking of moving quickly, is there a statute of limitations on filing a claim against a Square D in Lexington, Kentucky?
Paul: Unfortunately, there is. And, in Kentucky it’s not terribly long. We only have a year from, basically, when you know, or should know, you have an injury and know, or should know, the cause of that injury.
So, theoretically, that can be longer than a year after you were diagnosed, but I personally don’t like taking that risk. So, we always want to file a case certainly within a year of the date of diagnosis. And obviously you want to comply with the law and not run the risk of having your case thrown out. But also, given the unfortunate prognosis for people with mesothelioma, you really want to move as quickly as you possibly can, because we don’t know if people are going to survive for the length of the case.
So, the quicker you get it filed, the quicker that you have a chance of recovering while you’re alive. You get to participate more in your case. But you absolutely have to get it filed within a year. And, if you don’t, the impact is devastating. Our courts have absolutely zero discretion. If you file it a day after the statute, they can’t say, “I’m sorry. Mr. Smith just made a harmless error. We’re going to let you pursue your case.” They can’t do it, and you’re out. So, talk to a lawyer immediately and that lawyer will get that case filed for you, probably immediately.
John: Is there an opportunity for a family to file a claim against Square D, if their loved one was exposed and then passed away from mesothelioma? And, after that person has passed, can the family bring a claim against Square D?
Paul: Absolutely. Under Kentucky law, not only do you have the right to file on behalf of the claimant, but if the claimant were to die during the case, then the case will still continue on. It’ll just be pursued by the executor of the estate, or the personal representative of the estate. And, under those circumstances, the estate has one year, essentially, after the person died, to revive the case.
And they have a year from the date the personal representative was appointed to file a brand new case. And so, just because the victim passes away doesn’t mean that these companies get off the hook and don’t have to answer for their conduct. They still have to do that. It just might be a little bit more challenging, depending on what witnesses are available and that sort of thing. But the families always have recourse.
John: And, you don’t have the benefit of being able to interview that person once they’re gone.
Paul: Absolutely. Yeah.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Paul. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Paul: Thank you, 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.