The wife of a New Jersey auto mechanic was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in October 2008 and died in December of that year. She was just in her mid-50s.
The team of attorneys at Weitz & Luxenberg was able to get her family a large financial settlement from the manufacturers of the products that caused her death. Overall, the attorneys at W&L have negotiated more than $8 billion in verdicts and settlements for our clients.
The mesothelioma our client’s wife suffered from was caused by exposure to asbestos. This exposure was not direct. Her secondary exposure to asbestos came from washing her husband’s work clothes, which were covered in asbestos dust.
As is typical, it took decades for his wife’s mesothelioma symptoms to appear. Her husband worked as an auto mechanic for several years in the early 1970s – more than 30 years before his wife was diagnosed.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma Is Lethal
Mesothelioma is a lethal form of cancer; exposure to asbestos is the only known cause. Mesothelioma affects the thin tissues lining organs, the chest wall, and the abdomen.
Peritoneal mesothelioma simply means the cancer began in the abdomen. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy can sometimes slow the progress of mesothelioma, but the disease is always fatal.
Hazards of Asbestos
Asbestos is a group of natural minerals that bundle together into sturdy fibers. These fibers have many industrial applications because they are chemical and heat resistant. For decades, they have been used as insulation or mixed into other products to strengthen them.(1)
The danger of asbestos occurs when asbestos fibers are disturbed – they break off and float in the air or mix with dust. If the asbestos fibers are inhaled, the fibers can lodge in the lungs where they build up, leading to inflammation and scarring. Eventually, diseases like mesothelioma can develop.
The connection between asbestos and mesothelioma is so clear that it is classified as a known carcinogen. However, there are products in construction and in mechanical and industrial plants that may contain asbestos.(2)
One of the most common classes of products to contain asbestos is automobile parts, including brake pads and clutches, because of the friction to which these parts are subjected. As these parts wear, dust containing asbestos is created. If proper safety precautions are not followed, the dust can be inhaled or can settle on clothes.(3)
Occupational contact with asbestos is still the primary means of exposure, with some occupations more likely than others to come into contact with asbestos dust. Auto mechanics who perform brake repairs are at higher risk of exposure to asbestos. So are their families.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure Can Be Fatal
According to the National Cancer Institute, family members of workers in occupations where asbestos exposure is likely are also at greater risk for mesothelioma through secondary exposure.(4)
In this case, asbestos dust got on the auto mechanic’s shoes, clothing, skin, and hair, which he then brought into the family home. Once in the home, it was tracked throughout the house, repeatedly exposing his wife to asbestos dust. This “secondary” asbestos exposure proved lethal.
His wife did the family laundry and was exposed to asbestos by handling the dirty clothing her husband discarded. Additionally, asbestos dust from the husband’s soiled work clothes transferred to the washer once the work clothing had been cleaned. Any asbestos dust remaining in the machine may have transferred to additional loads of laundry done in the machine, further exposing family members.
Asbestos fibers can also mix with dust in the air in the home and then settle on furniture. In this case, our client’s wife dusted the furniture, disturbing the asbestos fibers, which she then inhaled.
Clients Receive Large Settlement
Weitz & Luxenberg attorney Leonard F. Feldman, who handled the case, comments, “This is tragic! If the auto parts manufacturers and auto makers had taken proper precautions, this would not have happened.”
There were six defendants in this case, all of them large auto parts manufacturers and automobile makers. Every single one of those defendants was held accountable and forced to pay monetary damages for the harm they caused to our client’s family.
Significantly, the auto mechanic gave testimony that was accurate and convincing. He provided the product identification necessary to hold the responsible parties liable.
Our client testified that he often performed brake work where he scuffed the brakes with sandpaper or used a sander, which created asbestos dust. He would then wipe his hands on his clothing to clean off the dust, and his wife was the one who did his laundry.
Weitz & Luxenberg Advocates for Our Clients
W&L has been a strong advocate for not only the workers who have been directly exposed to asbestos but also for their family members who have suffered secondary exposure.
Mr. Feldman, who heads up the W&L asbestos cases in New Jersey says, “We will hold corporations responsible for the harm they inflict on families through their negligence and callous disregard.”
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, reach out to Weitz & Luxenberg today. We can help you consider your legal options. Let us be your advocate.