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Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals that contain strong, flexible and easily separated fibers. A poor conductor of heat and electricity, asbestos is a multipurpose material used in a number of building, manufacturing and commercial applications.
The qualities that make asbestos a highly desirable material also make it deadly. Once disturbed, asbestos fibers turn into microscopic airborne dust particles. Lingering in the air for hours or days, these fibers can attach to clothing or work instruments. If these fibers are inhaled, they can cause serious health problems. Asbestos exposure has been known to cause a number of cancers, the most notable being mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that normally attacks the lungs and abdomen.
Use the information below to learn more about the dangers and sources of asbestos exposure.
Although asbestos history dates back to ancient Greece, the mineral became most popular in the United States during the 20th century Industrial Revolution. Known as the “miracle fiber” for its tensile strength, electrical resistance and fireproof properties, asbestos was most commonly used in factories, oil refineries, railroad yards and shipyards. Numerous products were also made with asbestos, including:
By the middle of the 20th century, it was clear that asbestos was dangerous. Articles and reports were making connections between workplace asbestos exposure and diseases such as lung cancer and asbestosis. Despite the new found awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure, many companies continued to allow its use and failed to provide their workers with warnings.
Asbestos use finally began to decline in the early 1970s, when major asbestos lawsuits became more commonplace. Because asbestos exposure was so widespread, generations of workers were experiencing negative asbestos health effects and were seeking compensation for their injuries. The mountain of litigation drove many U.S. companies to seek refuge in bankruptcy and others to cease asbestos use in order to avoid lawsuits against themselves.
The history of mesothelioma litigation dates back to the Industrial Revolution when asbestos use was in full force. Because mesothelioma has a latency period of up to 50 years, mesothelioma lawsuits have increased dramatically within the past 30 years. Below, we detail the history of mesothelioma litigation – from some of the earliest cases to asbestos litigation today.
Prior to 1982, in the early days of asbestos litigation, non-malignant asbestos cases received the majority of legal attention.
Two primary categories of these non-malignant cases were:
Early cases commonly involved workers in pipe fitting, construction and shipyard occupations. Even though mesothelioma was being diagnosed in other occupations, such as steam fitters and oil refinery workers, mesothelioma and asbestos cancer cases accounted for only a small portion of early asbestos claims.
With the influx of non-malignant asbestos cases came the bankruptcy of large companies that manufactured asbestos products. Some of these companies include Keene, Eagle-Picher, John’s-Manville and Unarco. Bankruptcy laws at the time allowed these companies to limit or eradicate any obligations for unliquidated personal injury claims such as mesothelioma or asbestos lawsuits.
Following these bankruptcies, mass settlements began to arise within asbestos litigation. Mass settlements grouped together large numbers of mesothelioma lawsuits and resulted in a group settlement as opposed to an individual settlement. This is because the bankruptcies’ plan or organization required plaintiffs to submit their claims to a settlement trust, which would pay all present and future claims.
Through the years, courts have had to innovate their methods of tackling the growing number of mesothelioma and asbestos litigation cases. Matrix payments arose as a new way for mesothelioma lawsuits to be settled. These matrix payments involved a mesothelioma lawyer submitting documents like medical records and asbestos exposure evidence to the defendant company that then evaluated the documents and wrote a check to the plaintiff.
Going with a matrix system or mass settlement can result in compensation far less than what is deserved. Instead, it’s best to choose a mesothelioma lawyer who will work with you to file an asbestos lawsuit through the court system so proper justice can be sought.
In 1965, a publication by the American Law Institute of The Restatement of the Law of Torts made it clear that anyone who sells or provides dangerous or defective products to a consumer is liable for the harm the product causes.
Since the courts decided that asbestos manufacturers knew of the dangers of asbestos, this led to a substantial increase in the filing of tort litigation, which involves an injured victim seeking legal compensation from the individual or individuals who harmed them.
In the decades that followed, tort litigation became an effective substitute for both workers’ compensation systems and government-run trust funds. Workers’ compensation, in particular, was designed for instances such as broken arms and disabling conditions, not for occupational diseases.
Also, many employers and their insurers would challenge their workers’ claims and avoid admitting asbestos was the cause of their harm. Because of this, the number of claims filed by individuals exposed to asbestos rose dramatically between the early 1980s and 2000s.
In 1990, a group of federal judges, known as the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), coordinated all pending asbestos cases in the federal courts and sent them to a single judge in Philadelphia. This caused a delay in mesothelioma litigation across the country and led to the filing of mesothelioma lawsuits in state courts rather than federal courts.
While some countries have completely banned asbestos, and other countries, like the U.S., have placed heavy regulations on its use, asbestos is still present and continues to be used.
The prevalence of asbestos use during the 20th century now poses serious health risks for more than one million U.S. workers. View a list of occupations most at risk for asbestos exposure.
Want to learn more about the history of asbestos use and mesothelioma? View the mesothelioma litigation timeline.
Watch the videos below to learn more about asbestos, exposure to asbestos and lawsuits related to asbestos exposure.