Even though asbestos has been a dirty word for decades, and its use and prevalence has dramatically declined, the toxic substance is still making its presence felt, and is still at the root cause of serious health problems including pleural mesothelioma. In many cases it is claiming lives.
Walter Kot of Illinois is just the latest worker to file a lawsuit against a host of corporations he claims were negligent in their responsibility to inform workers about the presence of asbestos and ways in which, through hygiene and other practices, to mitigate its spread and prevalence.
Kot is upset that on numerous occasions he transported, unknowingly, asbestos fibers home.
Kot toiled as a labourer, sheet-metal worker, shipper, forester and firefighter at the behest of a number of companies from 1940 through 1980. This past July he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and is litigating a total of 49 corporations for damages and compensation, which will ultimately help cover his medical bills.
In his lawsuit, filed last week in Madison County, Kot claims that the defendants should have known about the hazards of asbestos, and should have been more diligent in protecting its employees from needless exposure.
The lawsuit also alleges that the various defendants could have used asbestos substitutes in their products, but did not.
It has also been alleged that some, or all of the defendants – which were not named publicly – may have destroyed documents and certain evidence, which would have proven Kot's claims.
As a result Kot is seeking at least $550,000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering, and lost wages. He is also seeking punitive damages representing an undisclosed sum.
Meanwhile, a navy sailor last week was awarded $35.1 million in compensatory damages for exposure to asbestos while serving more than fifty years ago.
John R. 'Jack' Davis was diagnosed, like Kot, with pleural mesothelioma – a disease linked to asbestos exposure. In his lawsuit, Davis claimed that he was exposed to asbestos -covered pipes and vales during his tour of duty in the U.S. Navy, as well as his private-sector career.
The Navy, along with a number of un-named defendants, will have to pool in order to pay the lion's share of the award, 85.8 per cent. The remaining 14.2 per cent of the award is the responsibility of Leslie Controls of Florida, and Warren Pumps of Massachusetts, which will each pay 7.1 per cent. The latter two companies were identified as having supplied asbestos-based material to the Navy.
The verdict, delivered by a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court after a five-week trial, came after deliberations of less than a day, and breaks down to $100,000 for economic damages, $25 million for Mr. Davis' pain and suffering, and a further $10 million for his wife.
Pleural mesothelioma is a deadly cancer that is linked exclusively to the inhalation of asbestos particles in the air. Various countries have implemented an outright ban of asbestos use, something the United States tried but failed, after the ban was overturned in the courts. As a result, there are still products which contain asbestos, such as brake linings.
The incubation period is a long one: the lag time between asbestos exposure and the onset of pleural mesothelioma can be anywhere from 20 to 50 years.
Little wonder that Mr. Kot and Mr. Davis, identified above, litigated so long after exposure. Both men were diagnosed in 2007, decades after the fact.
It is a reasonable expectation there will be many more to come.