Asbestos has been used in various ways for centuries, however the industry really began in the early 20th century when companies realised that asbestos could be used as an insulator/ building material. During this time millions of industrial workers encountered the material without adequate protective equipment and are now at risk of developing seriously debilitating health issues as a result. In recent years experts have uncovered evidence which link exposure to asbestos with potentially fatal conditions such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Asbestos has since witnessed the introduction of strict regulations around the globe and is banned in a number of countries.
Litigation regarding asbestos has been around since the 1920’s, and the first asbestos compensation claims came to light around 1929. Since this time there have been more than 600,000 lawsuits filed against employers who have been deemed negligent in their role of protecting workers. Documents dating back to 1930 state that employers already knew the respiratory risks involved with working with asbestos but due to economic priorities this information was not only covered up but also misconstrued to benefit businesses. Since that time there have been several notable cases that have changed the way in which asbestos compensation claims are handled.
Borel v. Fibreboard
In 1969 Clarence Borel approached a Texas attorney with the interest of pursuing a claim that would change the way in which the legal system looks at asbestos compensation. Borel who had worked as an asbestos insulation installer for 30 years was diagnosed with advanced mesothelioma and with the aid of his attorney brought forward a case against not 1, not 2 but 11 different asbestos manufacturing companies. Four years later a court ruled that all manufacturers were liable after internal documentation unveiled that the companies already knew of the risks associated with asbestos exposure and that they had failed to protect their staff appropriately.
Waters v. W.R Grace
Thomas Waters worked as a till setter from the 1950’s all the way through to 1988, during this time he came into contact with asbestos on a daily basis. Waters developed a condition known as asbestosis as a result of this and went about seeking compensatory and punitive damages against W.R Grace and Company. In the first court ruling Grace was ordered to pay compensatory charges but was told that because they had already paid punitive damages to a previous claimant that they would not have to do so again.
This was appealed and the second court ruled that punitive damages should be paid out regardless of whether the company had previously paid them. Grace questioned whether successive punitive claims are fair and asked for leniency as they had already been punished. The court recognised that multiple punitive charges could be detrimental to a companies finances however they state that they should be held accountable for their own negligence and no lenience was shown.
Bell v. Dresser Industries Incorporated
In 2001 five plaintiffs from Alabama pressed charges against a former employer that allowed them to be exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos. Whilst all 5 men had been diagnosed with asbestosis, 2 were suffering with lung cancer and 2 with colon cancer. Sadly the claimants with colon cancer died during proceedings however their widows continued the claim on the deceased behalf. At first Dresser Industries denied exposing workers to asbestos through defective equipment however this was quickly uncovered and the business was ordered to pay out around $150 million to the families to compensate them for their losses.
Wrote by Adam Howard
Adam is an authority on asbestos law. His aim is to provide assistance, advice and guidance to people who are suffering from asbestos related illnesses. He currently writes for Atrium Legal and others who wish to spread his voice on this subject.