Prized for its insulating and fire protective properties, asbestos was a valuable and common tool of late 19th and early 20th century industries. Because asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop, early industrial employers did not understand the risks they were taking with their workers by allowing them to work around inhalable asbestos with no safety equipment. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, however, it became apparent that something was causing their workers to fall seriously ill. The first official case of asbestosis – a debilitating lung disease caused by long-term asbestos exposure – was diagnosed in 1924.
Mesothelioma – a rare form of terminal cancer caused by even very small amounts of asbestos exposure – was first identified in 1931, and by 1940s physicians were beginning to understand its link to asbestos. Despite these realizations, decades would pass before the threat of major liability and regulation revolutionized asbestos handling practices.
Asbestos History: First Litigation
By the 1930s asbestos related disease was a major scourge. A 1933 report by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company found that 29% of workers in one Johns-Manville plant suffered from asbestosis. That same year, the company settled a lawsuit with 11 employees on the condition that their lawyer never file suit against them again.
The first major legal win for asbestos victims was the case of Borel v. Fibreboard Paper, a 1973 decision by the Fifth Circuit, which established that an asbestos manufacturer could be held liable for injuries caused by its products. The manufacturer knew about the danger but failed to warn its employees, in violation of what the court determined to be a duty to speak. Borel opened the floodgates to decades of future asbestos litigation.
Asbestos History: Class Actions
Asbestos cases proliferated like wildfire following Borel. Naturally, consolidating cases into class action suits against major employers and manufacturers would streamline the litigation process and free up the courts from the burden of hearing so many asbestos cases. Because asbestos-related illnesses are so complex and the timing and duration of exposures are so individual, however, class action suits have not proven to be the most effective tool for holding negligent companies accountable. In Georgine v. Amchem Products, the US Supreme Court found that a class of plaintiffs created solely for settlement purposes was too large, and their injuries too varied. Following Amchem, other courts have not looked favorably upon asbestos class actions, and individual law suits remain the primary vehicle for compensating asbestos victims and their families.
Asbestos Victims: How to Seek Help
If you or a loved one is facing a devastating diagnosis of mesothelioma, like other victims who have come before you, you may be entitled to legal compensation. Today, the link between mesothelioma and asbestos is well-understood, and the right to be compensated for your harm is well-established. With more experience serving mesothelioma patients than any other law firm in the Pacific Northwest, Bergman Draper Oslund understands the history and future of asbestos litigation, and will work tirelessly to ensure that your rights are protected. Call today to find out how we can help you.