Toxic Tort


According to the AFL-CIO blog, an OSHA rule created to protect workers from asbestos hazards has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.  In 2003 a contractor in Houston, Texas hired 11 immigrant workers to perform an asbestos abatement job.  The contractor, Eric Ho, did not train the workers or give them appropriate protection, such as respirators.  A city inspector ordered the job stopped because of the asbestos violations, but the contractor made the workers perform the job behind locked gates, after hours; putting the workers at great risk. 

OSHA issued 22 separate violations to the contractor.  Eleven violations for not providing each worker with a respirator and eleven for not training the workers on how to properly work around asbestos.  A Bush Administration Commission overturned most of the citations, saying the contractor could only be cited once for the training violation and once for the respirator violation, consequently reducing the number of fines facing the contractor from 22 to 2.

OSHA subsequently re-worded the rules to clear up the issue, stating that separate citations can be issued for each worker who is not properly trained and separate citations can be issued for each worker who is not given a respirator.  The National Association of Home Builders sued the government, claiming OSHA did not have the authority to rewrite the rule.

In National Association of Home Builders C. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that OSHA was operating within its authority when it made the rule.  The dangers of working with asbestos have been known for many years.  It can cause cancers including lung cancer and mesothelioma, as well as asbestosis.  The ruling of the court, that the employer can be fined for each worker it doesn’t protect, gives OSHA a hammer to combat employers who don’t protect their workers appropriately.

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Garlock Sealing Technologies has filed for bankruptcy, according to a story on the WSJ Blog.  The company, founded in 1887, produces sealing materials for various sectors, including the petrochemical industry, the chemical industry, the power industry, and the paper industry.  For many years, approximately 1907 to 1980, Garlock produced gaskets, packing materials, and cloth that contained asbestos.  Garlock has been a defendant in numerous asbestos cases. 

In court documents Garlock listed the value of their assets at the $500 million to $1 billion range, and their debts in the $100 million to $500 million range.  The company is asking the court to establish a bankruptcy trust to pay asbestos related claims.  The filing also covers the Anchor Packing Company, an arm of Garlock that also produced asbestos containing products. 

Asbestos is a mineral widely used in the early to late part of the 20th century in industrial settings.  Breathing in asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs, which is called asbestosis.  This disease can prevent the lungs from expanding properly and leads to shortness of breath and even death.  There is no known cure for asbestosis, other than a lung transplant.  Asbestos also can cause cancer.  The most deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.

According to a report on LAW.COM, a New Jersey appellate court upheld a verdict of $30.3 million, awarded to a mesothelioma victim.  Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining around the lung caused by exposure to asbestos. 

The suit was brought by the wife of Mark Buttitta, who died from mesothelioma in 2002.  Buttitta’s father worked at a GM warehouse where he came into contact with asbestos containing products, such as brakes and clutches.  Buttitta was also exposed to asbestos when he worked in a GM warehouse as a college student.

Several defendants were sued, but only two defendants, Borg-Warner Corp. and Asbestos Corp. LTD. were remaining in the case at the time of trial.  Borg-Warner claimed that their products were not at the warehouse where Buttitta worked, and the claim was hard to prove because Borg-Warner had previously destroyed records of sales of their products to GM facilities.  However, John Fronig, a former GM manager testified in a case in Texas that Borg-Warner was the “prime” supplier of clutches to GM from the early 60’s until the mid-80’s. 

ACL, a Canadian company, was a major asbestos supplier to GM.  They asked the court to find that there was no personal jurisdiction over the company, because they are Canadian.  ACL also refused to participate in discovery in the case and was sanctioned, by striking their answer and defenses in the case.  ACL lost their appeal on all issues.

The verdict, the largest known verdict in New Jersey history, included $8 million for pain and suffering, $2 million for loss of consortium, $9 million for lost earning capacity, $2 million for loss of services, and $3 million to each child for loss of parental care.

A jury in McClean County Illinois awarded the family of a deceased mesothelioma victim over $2 million, according to a story on pantagraph.com.  The woman, Juanita Rodarmel, was married to a man who worked at the Union Asbestos & Rubber Company (UNARCO) plant in Bloomington, IL in the 1950’s. 

Ms. Rodarmel’s husband carried home asbestos fibers on his clothes and Ms. Rodarmel was exposed to the asbestos fibers from his clothes every time she was his clothes.  The jury awarded $100,000 in punitive damages against Pneumo Abex, LLC and $400,000 in punitive damages against Honeywell International.  The lawyers for Ms. Rodarmel’s family argued that Pneumo Abex and Honeywell International conspired with other companies to suppress the facts about the hazards of asbestos.

According to the Chicagotribune.com, a jury awarded a verdict of $2.6 million in the case of a woman exposed to toxic asbestos particles.  The woman, Jean Holmes, died from asbestos related cancer, mesothelioma, in April of 2006.  Mrs. Holmes’ exposure to asbestos occurred when she washed her husband’s clothes.  Her husband, Donald Homes, was a worker at the Union Asbestos and Rubber Company, in Bloomington, IL in the 1960’s. 

The lawsuit claimed Mr. Holmes worked around asbestos products manufactured and used by the defendant’s.  Mr. Holmes’ work with these asbestos products caused asbestos particles to be lodged on his clothing at work everyday.  Mr. Holmes carried these deadly particles home to his wife, who shook them out of the clothing and breathed the particles into her lungs, while she was preparing the clothes to be washed. 

The plaintiffs claimed the defendants, including Honeywell International, Inc. and Pneumo Abex LLC, failed to warn the workers who used their products about the dangers of asbestos.  It was claimed these defendants knew about the dangers of asbestos for years and conspired to suppress the information about the dangers, so that workers would not learn about the deadly nature of the product they routinely worked with.  The jury found the defendants responsible for their failure to warn the workers about these hazards.

A story on Yahoo News reports W.R. Grace settled a class action against the company relating to asbestos containing attic insulation the company sold.  THe company will pay $30 Million up front to fund a trust, another $30 Million after 3 years, and up to ten annual payments of $8 Million if terms of settlement are met, up to $140 Million total over the life of the settlement. 

The class action stems from the company’s sale of Zonolite Insulation, an asbestos containing product the company sold across the country for many years.  Over the years the product was installed in millions of homes.  The fund will pay the claims of individuals injured by this dangerous and sometimes deadly product.

Zonolite insulation was made primarily of vermiculite, an ore mined at the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana.  The vermiculite in the mine contained asbestos.  The community of Libby has been devastated by asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.  Whole families in Libby have been destroyed by these horrible diseases.  Others in cities and towns all across the country have been injured by this product, which was used to insulate their attics. 

The lawsuits alleged W.R. Grace knew of the dangers of asbestos for years, but continued to use the product and never warned anyone of the potential dangers of the product.

Article in NY Times regarding findings that some granite counter tops emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation.  Radon is a hazardous chemical element, a colorless gas, which is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.  The article relates the story of a homeowner who had her granite counter tested and found levels over 25 times those considered safe.  Radon exposure is especially dangerous to smokers, whose lungs are already in a compromised position, as well as young children.

There are several resources on-line to help determine if you have a problem.  The EPA has a Radon website with links to information on testing your home for radon.  The AARST (American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists) website also has information on technicians qualified to test your home for radon. 

An EPA spokesman is quoted in the story as saying “there is no known safe level of radon or radiation” exposure and that “any exposure (to radon) increases your health risk”.

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