Employers in Pennsylvania who do not protect their workers from hazards faced on the job can be held liable. When that lack of corporate responsibility costs a worker his life, the employer is going to pay for it. And pay substantially.
That’s the message from the attorneys at Weitz & Luxenberg when we fight for the rights of our clients. We believe that they deserve compensation when their employers put their lives at risk.
Our attorneys at W&L have negotiated settlements and verdicts for a total of $17 billion for our clients.
Manufacturing Company Pays Out
The manufacturer ended up being responsible for most of the settlement we obtained for our client.
Although most states require an employee injured on the job to seek help through Workers’ compensation, Pennsylvania lets the employee sue the employer.
In this case, our client worked for several decades at a manufacturing company, where he was exposed to asbestos and decades later contracted mesothelioma.
Life-Threatening Mesothelioma Cancer
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is lethal. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of this aggressive form of cancer.
More importantly, most people who develop mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos decades earlier. They were exposed while doing their daily jobs. It would be a very long time before any symptoms emerged.(1)
This is precisely what happened in the case of our client, the family of a deceased 80-year-old maintenance worker and former Navy gunner’s mate who died of mesothelioma.
Navy Vet Exposed to Asbestos Mostly During Civilian Years
The maintenance worker served in the U.S. Navy in the early 1950s. He was assigned to a Fletcher class destroyer. After his military service ended, he worked as a painter for the rest of the decade. Then, for the next 30 years, he worked in a plant that made paper cartons.
His work at the plant brought him into almost daily contact with products and insulation that contained asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that forms bundles of tiny durable fibers that can be added to products to strengthen them or be used as insulation.
These tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air while people are working with asbestos. Often these fibers are present in the form of dust. When this dust is inhaled, the fibers become trapped in your lungs.(2)
The maintenance worker’s exposure to asbestos at the plant was due to the extreme indifference of his employer. He and a coworker were repeatedly exposed to asbestos although they were lied to; the manufacturer told them that there was none present in the facility.
“When Weitz & Luxenberg has a mesothelioma case, we fight as hard as we can on behalf of our clients, their families, and their coworkers to bring all responsible parties to justice. We want to make certain our client’s suffering leaves an indelible impression on those who treated them and their health with callous disregard,” insists Weitz & Luxenberg’s Alex Eiden.
Maintaining Equipment Led to Asbestos Exposure
The maintenance worker and his coworker—the union steward of the plant and the safety man at the facility — were responsible for the repair of machines, making of parts, and work on the insulated lines and elbows.
The machines they fixed included: sheeters, cutters, presses, gluers, waxers, forklifts, and scissor lifts. During the last 15 years they worked together, they also maintained the boiler room.
Asbestos exposure came from equipment the maintenance worker and the union steward worked on together. For example, when they worked on the sheeters, their tasks involved changing the brakes, which created an asbestos-laced dust. On the cutters, exposure came from working on the insulation in the motors, or changing bearings, chains, and grippers.
Asbestos Exposure from Pipes and Pumps
But it also came from pipes. They worked on the lines quite often. The facility had chilled water lines, steam lines, wax lines, air lines, and elbows where pipe would change direction. The plant had hundreds of elbows.
When there were leaks in the lines, they had to take off the pipe coverings and fix the leaks. And, when they had to remove insulation, it created dust. Our client and his coworker removed 400 to 500 feet of insulation from pipes alone during their time together at the plant.
The plant also had 50 to 100 pumps. Repairing the pumps meant putting in new seals, gaskets, and packing. Removal of gaskets created dust. After removal of the gaskets, they would blow out the pumps. That was when our client probably inhaled asbestos dust.
The team of two also replaced packing materials when the pumps leaked. Working on the pumps meant they had to interact with pipe insulation attached to the pipes, which exposed them to even more dust.
Asbestos and Boilers
The steam lines required a lot of valve replacements. Our client would fix the larger valves and replace the smaller ones. He often would have to change packing on a leaking valve. This meant exposure to asbestos-containing dust.
Likewise, there were two large and one small boiler in the plant that required maintenance several times a year. The boilers required teardowns entailing taking the ends off the boilers and removing the manhole and handhold covers.
In doing this work, our client had to replace gaskets and change a popup valve on the boiler, which exposed him to packing materials. Changing boiler door gaskets exposed him to dust. Additionally, there was insulation on the exterior of the boiler, which would tear when he worked on the boiler. This produced even more dust that he breathed in.
Asbestos Exposure in Forklift Shop
Finally, there was the forklift shop. The plant had dozens of forklifts and more than half a dozen scissor lifts in the shop. Here, our client rebuilt engines that blew, which also required him to change gaskets. These gaskets had to be changed a couple of times a year. He had to tear down one engine per month in this shop.
The forklifts also had a schedule during which our client checked and changed brakes. Brakes usually had to be changed once a year on each vehicle. The maintenance worker performed brake work, and hydraulic and electric motor work, on the scissor lifts.
Employer Agrees to Pay Damages
The union steward’s testimony that led to the employer’s settlement payout was based upon his position as safety man for the facility. He testified that the manufacturer never brought up asbestos with him and, in fact, told him it was not in the facility. An asbestos abatement in the late 1990s proved this to be untrue.
More importantly, employees were never warned of the hazards of asbestos at this facility. Nor were there ever warning signs regarding the hazards of asbestos posted. The steward indicated that he personally brought up the potential of having asbestos in the facility numerous times.
Starting in the 1980s, workers voiced concern that something might be asbestos. So, the steward took samples to the supervisor to have it checked before the employees worked on it. He did this at least six times. He would give the samples to his supervisor in a plastic bag, and the next day he would see the samples in the trash.
During his last year at the plant, the union steward testified that there was abatement. The manufacturer was abating the insulation from the lines, piping, and boilers where he and our client had worked. Also, the plant was abating the areas where he had taken his samples from when his supervisor actually told him there was no asbestos in the plant.
The remainder of the settlement money was received from manufacturers of products that contained asbestos, including pipes, gaskets, valves, brakes, pumps, and insulation.
Weitz & Luxenberg Can Help
Mr. Eiden says, “Clearly this company endangered the lives of its employees, which ultimately cost a maintenance worker, an honorable Navy veteran, his life. Weitz & Luxenberg had the privilege of fighting his last battle for him.”
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact Weitz & Luxenberg. Let us help you explore your legal options.