Asbestos has been found to cause several fatal diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, etc. Asbestos is not the first material used by human civilization which is harmful, many chemicals used in industries are even more harmful, for example methyl isocyanate used in chemical plants, is extremely toxic and was cause of thousands of death when it leaked in India (Bhopal gas tragedy, 1984).
Why asbestos liability arises?
Most exposure to asbestos cases are because of "occupational exposure" – meaning getting exposed while working. The key issue here is that with adequate knowledge, precaution and prevention all the health hazards of asbestos can be avoided and this is the precise reason why people exposed to asbestos can hold their firms, employers, etc. responsible for their loss of pay, health and life and claim compensation. One should note that it is not that in all asbestos related cases the employers are at fault and it is on the court to decide the same based on facts presented to it by both parties.
Asbestos exposure can also happen while at home, due to exposure to products with asbestos. Children are at risk too as many school buildings built before 1980s might have asbestos used in them at several places. In many cases there is an indirect exposure, for example if you are staying near a asbestos mine and the mining company is not taking proper care, then you and your family can suffer because of that.
What factors determine asbestos liability?
In simple words determining asbestos liability means should the claimant or complainant be compensated at all and if yes, how much. Asbestos liability can arise because of various reasons and these reasons have to be proved in front of the court with evidences. Some of the most common reasons are:
Strict liability: Strict liability, is the legal responsibility for damages, or injury, even if the person found strictly liable was not at fault or negligent. In this case the inherent dangerous nature of the material is sufficient to establish that the defendant did not live up to their duties.
Asbestos iability arising due to Negligence: This is simply to say that the defendant was negligent in his duties. This claim can be made if defendant's was legally bound to take care of claimant, defendant's conduct was against its duties, it was due to defendant's negligent conduct which caused the disease, this injury led to damage of the claimant.
Asbestos Liability arising due to Breach of warranty: Breach of warranty is when a product sold by a firm causes harm to the user because of false claim. In such a case the user relied on the claim put by the manufacturer which was false. Use of this type is very simple to prove in case of a product. But in case of asbestos this is complicated as no one company or person might be responsible for this exposure, for example a user might get exposed to asbestos using an appliance which has asbestos maybe because the product was faulty or it was installed incorrectly or even repaired in a wrong manner. Thus making such a claim is difficult.
Common defendants in asbestos liability cases
Some of the most common defendants in asbestos exposure cases are:
Asbestos mining companies
The first and the obvious name is of asbestos mining firms. There were lot of mines producing asbestos (post 2002, no asbestos mines exists in US) and not only the workers in these mines but people living in surrounding areas were also at risk of asbestos related diseases. Asbestos mining companies which did not took appropriate precautions during their mining operations can be held liable for any asbestos related injuries. Many mining companies did not warn the workers and people around the mines of potential hazards, such mining companies were sued by claimants. Because of this many asbestos mining firms filed for bankruptcy protection under Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1994.
Companies producing asbestos metal
Asbestos manufacturing firms provide asbestos to companies which require them for their products such as automobiles, electronics, etc. Asbestos handling at these firms is a potentially dangerous job and workers and surrounding population has to be made aware of potential hazards. Apart from the proper precautions have to be taken to ensure workers are safe. If a producer fails to do so, it can be held liable for injuries.
Asbestos products manufacturers
Asbestos is not completely banned in USA and thus there are many products which still have asbestos in them. In many cases these products were installed before the major asbestos related laws came into effect. Such products include, brake linings, electronics, roofing, plumbing, insulation, boilers, engines, fire proofing, tiles, floor tiles, pipes and many many more.
These manufacturers have to provide clear warnings regarding the presence and potential health hazards due to asbestos. Establishing a product manufacturers liability is difficult and trickier than that of first two cases.
Professional Services and other Employers
Take for example workers which repair boilers or insulation in buildings, as these products may contain asbestos and if the employed does not provide proper facilities, training and warning about it then health of such workers are at risk. The same situation is with asbestos abatement workers, if these workers whose job is to remove asbestos are ill equipped and poorly instructed, they have very high risk of asbestos related disease.
In all these and many more instances, employers may face liability
Asbestos contaminated real estate owners
One need to be an employee or working in a mine to get asbestos exposure. There are so many possibilities where you can get expose to asbestos – children in schools, people working in old buildings, people living in old buildings, etc. Owner of such properties are required to ensure that the property is free from asbestos. This may also require surveys to identify issues and conduct asbestos abatement if required.
Outcomes of asbestos liability cases
Outcomes of liability cases can be in favour of the defendants or claimants. Claimants can get compensated in two ways – 1) when court verdict says so 2) when the defendants wants to settle the case. In these cases the compensation paid typically includes medical expenses, travel, loss of pay, etc.
Whatever be the outcome, if you are one of the sufferers of asbestos exposure related disease it is highly advisable to contact a good lawyer immediately and discuss your case. If your case are string and sufficient facts are available it is highly likely that you will get some relief in terms of monetary compensation.