The use of asbestos in products such as concrete, bricks, pipes, and other building materials has made way for a large amount of litigation on asbestos-related diseases and deaths. This litigation can help victims of the chemical and their families find some sort of meaning and relief from the toxic material. Litigation on asbestos, however, is very difficult both because the asbestos-related damages did not result from a single, identifiable act, and because it is not only the companies that produced the asbestos which are guilty- it is also those that used and marketed it.
A recent case contains both of these difficulties. Phillip Graf was exposed to asbestos for a period of 30 years while working in several jobs including metal works and drywall. Such extended exposure to such toxic material places one at risk of contracting mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Graf suffered from mesothelioma and later died from the disease. His family, Beatrice, Doryk, and Paulette Graf are suing in response to his death. They have named 29 defendants in the case, including Benjamin Moore & Co. and Metropolitan Life. The Graf family claims that the defendants are not only guilty of designing, manufacturing, packaging, transporting, and selling asbestos products, but also aiding and abetting the marketing of asbestos products.
In a traditional personal injury case, the damage results from a single act, but in asbestos cases such as Phillip Graf’s, the damages occurred over periods as long as 30 years or longer. What is worse, typically problems that result from asbestos exposure take years to show. Mesothelioma itself is impossible to detect early on and its symptoms are similar to other diseases, so patients are frequently misdiagnosed. All of this makes it very difficult for plaintiffs to prove that their health problems resulted from asbestos exposure and then link that asbestos exposure to the actions of the defendants. In the Graf case, the Graf family will have to show that the suffering and death Phillip Graf endured from his mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure, and that the named defendants caused that exposure.
In one case of asbestos exposure a large amount of defendants may be guilty based upon their involvement in the asbestos use. Unfortunately, an employee cannot typically sue and employer for asbestos exposure because of the Louisiana Workers Compensation Act which requires that such injuries be addressed through workers compensation, not tort suits. As a result, it is important to find other theories of liability on which a victim can sue.
The easiest potential defendant is the building owners, if they are different from the employer. In Phillip Graf’s case, this would be the person or corporation which owned the building in which he was exposed to asbestos. Building owners are strictly liable for damages caused by asbestos on their property.
In the past, most litigation on asbestos focused on the companies that produced asbestos products. However, because of asbestos-related suits, many of these companies have since gone bankrupt. Some plaintiffs have attempted to draw even further chains of causality, suing manufacturers of products used in conjunction with other manufacturers’ asbestos products, such as the manufacturers of pumps and valves. Whether these companies can be liable for failure to warn of asbestos-related hazards in products made by others is still in contention. No matter the theory of liability, as we have illustrated before, to be liable the defendant’s conduct must be a substantial factor in the harm. Thus, for example, for Metropolitan Life, the Graf family will have to show that the company’s aiding and abetting of the marketing and negligence related to asbestos products was a substantial factor in Phillip Graf’s contraction of mesothelioma.
As cases such as Graf’s show, with the many liability strategies and the problems that arise over the timing of exposure and the development of the disease, litigation in asbestos cases can become extremely complicated. In order to fully protect and preserve your rights in an asbestos case, you need to be sure to retain an attorney who is familiar with the many complexities of asbestos cases.
If you have questions about your asbestos case, call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak to an attorney with experience trying such cases.