Whether you have symptoms of mesothelioma, have a loved one who was recently diagnosed, have been diagnosed yourself, or have no connection at all to mesothelioma, you may be wondering: why is there so much uproar about this disease, and what are the implications of being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma? As you may know, mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer, and it is most often diagnosed in individuals who have experienced asbestos exposure at some point in their lives, either directly or through secondhand exposure at home. However, it is precisely because mesothelioma is so closely related to asbestos exposure that there is so much uproar over this disease.
Patient safety advocates and consumer advocates emphasize that, despite known risks of asbestos exposure currently, including the possibility of a future mesothelioma diagnosis, asbestos is still used in many products. Further, some research suggests that manufacturers throughout the country and the world had reason to know about the risks of asbestos exposure during the heyday of products made with asbestos—many of which have caused the thousands of mesothelioma diagnoses in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Accordingly, there is significant uproar around the continued presence of asbestos and the failure to provide compensation to individuals who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma following asbestos exposure. Yet it is important for anyone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, or has lost a loved one to mesothelioma, to know that there are legal implications and that it may be possible to file a civil lawsuit to seek compensation.
Latency Period and Knowledge of Asbestos Exposure Risks
Malignant mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer, so it can be surprising to realize that there is so much uproar or public outcry concerning mesothelioma diagnosis. For example, you might have seen commercials about patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and the possibility of filing a lawsuit sometimes decades following the initial exposure to asbestos. To be clear, malignant mesothelioma is not a commonly diagnosed type of cancer, but much of the public out-roar is related to the fact that the risk factors of mesothelioma diagnoses have been known for some time, yet companies have failed to take precautions and to adequately warn about risks. In short, most mesothelioma cases are entirely avoidable.
According to the American Cancer Society, malignant mesothelioma is indeed relatively rare, accounting for only about 3,000 cases of cancer annually in the United States. To put that number in perspective, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1.6 million people are diagnosed with some form of cancer every year in the United States alone, and approximately 600,000 people die from cancer annually. Based on those numbers, malignant mesothelioma diagnosis account for only about 0.2 percent of all cancer diagnoses in America each year. The rate of mesothelioma diagnoses were at their peak from the 1970s through the 1990s, and the American Cancer Society reports that mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S. have remained relatively steady in recent years. Yet one of the facts that is so disconcerting about malignant mesothelioma is its latency period.
For many people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the diagnosis comes anywhere from 10 to 40 or 50 years after their initial exposure to asbestos. Indeed, the average age of diagnosis with pleural mesothelioma is 72, and many of those patients were initially exposed to asbestos when they were in their 20s and 30s. One of the reasons that these diagnoses are so frustrating and devastating is that we know—and have known—about the risks of asbestos exposure for quite some time. Yet despite ongoing research and the banning of various types of asbestos products in the U.S., people continue to be exposed to asbestos in their homes and workplaces, and to be diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. A latency period is the amount of time between a person’s exposure to a hazardous substance or a known carcinogen like asbestos and the person’s diagnosis with a related disease like mesothelioma.
Asbestos is Still Present Across America Despite Known Risks
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule which it banned most asbestos-containing products, but that ban did not mean that all materials containing asbestos in buildings and in other locations had to be safely removed. Rather, that ban prevented the new manufacture of certain types of asbestos-containing products, although it did not ban the manufacture of all asbestos-containing products. The reason that the EPA ban did not effectively ban all asbestos-containing products is that a federal court overturned the ban in 1991, and it limited the ways in which the EPA could regulate the manufacture and use of asbestos-containing products. In short, only some asbestos-containing products could be banned. To date, in the twenty-first century, there is still no full ban on all asbestos products in the United States.
As such, asbestos is still present in many areas across the country, and people are continuing to be exposed. While you might be frustrated that asbestos-containing materials are still present despite the knowledge we now have about the links between asbestos exposure and malignant mesothelioma, it can be even more angering to know that researchers and manufacturers have understood those risks for decades—long before asbestos dangers would well known by the public.
Research Showed Asbestos Was Dangerous Early On
According to The New York Times, Dr. Irving J. Selikoff began studying the harmful effects of asbestos exposure in the 1960s, including the increased risks for mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. With a team of researchers, Selikoff was able to show that “people who worked with asbestos for less than a week had scarred lungs 30 years later.” His research led to safeguards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the 1970s, and subsequent responses from the EPA. To be clear, Selikoff’s research made clear that asbestos was dangerous as early as the 1960s, yet manufacturers continued to use it in various types of consumer and commercial products.
Legal Implications of Having Mesothelioma: Product Liability Claims and Other Types of Civil Lawsuits
There are legal implications of having mesothelioma when manufacturers and government agencies knew and have known for years about the risks of asbestos exposure and its connections to mesothelioma diagnosis. Even though many workers themselves did not realize that asbestos exposure could result in a mesothelioma diagnosis when they were working with materials containing asbestos, or when people were doing work in buildings with asbestos or in homes containing asbestos, they may still be able to file a claim because of the facts that manufacturers, employers, and other parties knew of the risks.
The legal implications are that the companies making these products, and the places selling them and using them, knew or should have known about the risks associated with asbestos exposure and should have warned employees, consumers, and other parties who were likely to be exposed. Further, many of these companies and retailers continued to make and sell asbestos-containing products for years and even decades following public knowledge about the risks associated with asbestos exposure. It is likely that many companies designing, manufacturing, selling, and requiring the use of asbestos-containing products knew about the dangers but failed to warn about the possibility of using products containing asbestos and developing mesothelioma.
Given the fact that companies knew or should have known about the risks associated with using asbestos-containing products, it may be possible to file a product liability lawsuit or another type of personal injury lawsuit against the company responsible for making or selling the product. In some cases, employers may be responsible for failing to adequately protect employees from asbestos exposure in the workplace. Indeed, in some circumstances in the present, employers continue to require employees to work in areas or with materials that could result in asbestos exposure without providing appropriate safety gear and training to avoid exposure to asbestos.
Statutes of Limitations for Asbestos-Related Mesothelioma Claims
There are different types of personal injury lawsuits that may be filed following a mesothelioma diagnosis linked to asbestos exposure. It will be extremely important to seek legal assistance from an attorney who has experience handling mesothelioma claims connected to asbestos exposure. You will need to find out more about the statute of limitations on a claim you could be eligible to file, and the type of lawsuit that is appropriate given the particular facts of your case. Many states have statutes of limitations on mesothelioma claims and other related claims that allow the patient to file a claim within a period of time following the diagnosis. While the statute of limitations in most personal injury claims will begin to tick on the date of the exposure to the harmful substance, states recognize that it can take decades for mesothelioma to develop. Accordingly, many patients will be able to learn that the clock on the statute of limitations will start ticking on the date of the mesothelioma diagnosis as opposed to the date of the asbestos exposure.
You should explore the full legal options that could be available to you, from a product liability lawsuit to another kind of personal injury claim based on your specific circumstances.