The workmen tasked with renovation of a county courthouse in Missouri in the early 1980s were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and without necessary protections. So too were those who worked nearby, according to a new lawsuit.
When workers sawed through old heating pipes that were insulated with the deadly fibers, the material blew through the air vents. When the men carried sections of pipe through the hallways, down the elevator, and into the parking lot dumpster, they left trails of asbestos dust wherever they walked. Asbestos covered hallways, stairways, and even court papers in various offices. Those who worked there at the time would later testify the amount of grit and dust from the fifth-floor project left virtually no corner of the building untouched.
Making matters worse was that ventilation was poor, and the renovation
workers wore no masks or gloves. There were also no warning signs posted
to alert those nearby to the danger.
And now, according to recent news reports, the consequences of that carelessness and failure to warn are being revealed.
One of those working in the courthouse at the time developed mesothelioma years later, and died of the disease in 2010. Its sole known cause is airborne exposure to asbestos, which is breathed in and then causes scarring around the lungs. Her family later sued both the county and the engineering firm that carried out the work, and ultimately settled the case for nearly $10.5 million.
But questions are being raised by other co-workers. Many don’t have any symptoms of asbestos-related disease – yet. But they breathed that same air in the courthouse. They run the risk of encountering that same fate.
Now, a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of those workers – potentially thousands of them – arguing for free medical testing for life. While mesothelioma is a terminal disease, early diagnosis can help extend one’s life expectancy.
The lawsuit asks the defendants – the county and the engineering firm – to pay $40 million to ensure medical monitoring for not just those who worked in the courthouse, but jurors and anyone else who spent time there during those renovations.
Both the county and the engineering company insist there were no toxic levels of exposure to asbestos while the renovations were ongoing.
Initially, a district court denied the plaintiffs class-action status, but the state appellate court recently reversed, opening the door for the case to press forward.
That ruling comes eight years after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled groups of individuals exposed to toxic substances are entitled to receive access to medical testing for decades into the future, even if they currently have no symptoms of sickness. The general idea is that it’s more expensive and outcomes are worse when workers don’t receive an early diagnosis.
This is a different standard than what we see in most personal injury lawsuits because typically plaintiffs must prove they suffered some loss or injury. In this case, what is alleged is the possibility of an injury or loss, which can and should be mitigated by promoting early diagnosis through frequent medical testing.
Here, the plaintiffs also seek punitive damages, which could increase the total amount retained, although it’s unclear at this point whether those who join the lawsuit would maintain their legal right to pursue further action if they are ultimately diagnosed.
Few states have such a broad allowance for medical monitoring cases, but many others are closely watching this one to see how it will proceed.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling (888) 554-2030. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Asbestos lawsuit over Jackson County Courthouse seeks millions, March 28, 2015, By Mike Hendricks, The Kansas City Star