In the past, many people who worked with asbestos were not aware that this substance is a highly toxic material that causes an aggressive and generally deadly form of cancer known today as mesothelioma. The two main types of mesothelioma that invade major organ linings are called pleural (lungs) and peritoneal (abdomen). In recent years, Mesothelioma lawsuits have been filed against employers, manufacturers, installers, insurance companies and others who were found to be negligent and at fault for causing harm and death.

Mesothelioma – the Disease

Although first mentioned as early as 1921, the first time a diagnosis conclusively linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma occurred in 1964. Asbestosis was first diagnosed in 1924 as a disease that caused scarring due to asbestos fibers. During the 1930s, articles were published in major medical journals that connected asbestos exposure to cancer. Some labor laws at that time in England required increased ventilation in areas where asbestos was used.

One of the most insidious forms of cancer, Mesothelioma, may take from 10 to 50 years to develop and be diagnosed. It primarily affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen, infecting a protective membrane called the mesothelium. This lining is found on most of the internal organs of the body, but three quarters of the cases of this type of cancer originate in the pleural mesothelium found in the chest cavity. It also can begin around the heart or in the abdominal cavity. No matter where this disease develops, those malignant cancer cells can metastasize and spread to nearby tissues and other parts of the body.

Once diagnosed, the victim usually has 2 years or less to live; it is generally incurable and results in a painful ending of life. It affects a small portion of people who either worked with asbestos materials or who were exposed to it previously. In the United States, about 3000 people are diagnosed with this disease each year. Since mesothelioma takes so long to develop, the disease is advanced by the time it is discovered and the survival rate is only about 5% to 10% following diagnosis. Death usually is attributed to respiratory failure or pneumonia.

Mesothelioma Causes

Mesothelioma is most often developed in persons who have been exposed to asbestos. It can also occur in some individuals who have not been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that is formed from thin microscopic fibers that are resistant to hazards like heat, fire and chemicals. It does not conduct electricity, which made it ideal for use in major industries like construction, automotive and others. It is mined and mixed with other materials, including fabric and cement. It was widely used for fire protection, insulation and tensile strength. It was so popular, even the U.S. Military used it in every service branch.

Asbestos was first mined in the Unites States in the late 1800s, in Sall Mountain, GA. The last U.S. asbestos mining operation closed in 2002, in California, after it was recognized how deadly asbestos could be. It is still used around the world, but in the U.S., there has been a decline after peak use occurred in 1973. Asbestos was also imported from Canada for use in the U.S. By 2009, U.S. consumption of asbestos was minimal.

Asbestos use dates back to the Stone Age, when it was used in pottery. The Greeks and Ancient Egyptians used fabrics woven with asbestos fibers. Charlemagne and Marco Polo were users of asbestos fabrics, but the slaves who wove the fabrics were harmed by lung diseases. Modern use began around the late 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution. The qualities of asbestos were welcomed for use in the shipbuilding, railroad and automobile industries. Today, asbestos production and use is banned in 50 countries, but not the U.S.

  • Asbestos dangersSix types of minerals are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as asbestos: actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite and tremolite. When the tiny asbestos fibers that make up these minerals are dispersed into the air, people can inhale or swallow them. This can happen while a person is working with or near these materials, or even just from being near to someone else who has been exposed to asbestos and brings home the contact via their clothing or hair and skin. Some people have developed mesothelioma just because they were living near to an asbestos mining operation.
  • Asbestos unknowns – The disease sometimes can be found in persons who had no known exposure to asbestos in the past. How these fibers interact with the organ linings and cause irritation is not completely understood, nor is it known why it takes so long for the cancer to develop following asbestos exposure.
  • Asbestos exposure – The minerals are found in our environment and with the known factors of use for resisting heat, asbestos was commonly used in many applications. This substance was added to insulation, shingles, flooring, brakes, fabrics and other products that were widely used in civilian and military life. Workers in certain occupations like shipbuilding, pipefitters, electricians, plumbers and steam fitters were exceptionally vulnerable to being exposed to asbestos. Military workers account for approximately 30 percent of these cases, according to the National institute for Occupational Health and Safety. Asbestos was used in homes and apartments built prior to 1980, in roofs, floor tiles, plumbing, fireplaces, furnaces and window caulking. People living in these areas were exposed when normal aging, wear and tear dislodged the fibers into the air.
  • Asbestos exceptions – Some persons who worked with or around asbestos never developed this disease. Other possible causes include exposure to zeolite minerals, radiation or certain injections to the chest or abdomen, the SV40 virus (simian) that contaminated some polio vaccines given from 1955 through 1963, and possible genetic factors.

Symptoms of Mesothelioma

Unfortunately for victims, symptoms of Mesothelioma do not appear for discovery until 10 to 50 years following initial exposure to asbestos. Signs or symptoms of this disease vary, according to where it is located. Major symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath. For some rare forms, the signs or symptoms are unclear. Since many symptoms may be related to other diseases, it is important to check with your doctor if you have any of these issues.

Pleural mesothelioma (lungs area)

  • Painful coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, especially under rib cage
  • Weight loss that is unusual
  • Lumps of tissue under skin at chest area

Peritoneal mesothelioma (abdominal area)

  • Swelling, pain in abdomen, swallowing difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Blood clotting abnormalities
  • Bowel obstruction

Other types of mesothelioma

  • Pericardial – near heart, causes chest pains and difficulty breathing
  • Tunica Vaginalis – around testicles, often as a mass or swelling

Mesothelioma Treatment & Results

Once diagnosed, mesothelioma treatment is similar to treatment for other forms of cancer. The most important determining factor involves the stage or extent to which the mesothelioma has reached. Your doctor will consider all other factors that might play a role in a treatment strategy. There are four main options for mesothelioma treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and clinical trials.

If the doctor believes the cancer can be removed by surgery, and the patient’s health permits this activity, a surgical treatment for all visible areas of cancer may be preferred. If surgery is not an acceptable procedure, the next option would be chemotherapy, which may help improve symptoms or slow cancer growth temporarily. Chemo may not cure the cancer, but it could extend the lifetime of the patient. Radiation is often used with chemo, to help slow or kill cancer cells. Another option that may be available is clinical trials, if any are available and accepting new participants.

The main problem with achieving results in treatment of mesothelioma is that by the time the disease is diagnosed, it is very advanced. Also, metastasized malignant cancer cells can spread to other areas of the body and cause cancerous growth there as well. A survival rate at five years following diagnosis is only about 5% to 10%. Most victims die within two years of their diagnosis of mesothelioma. Death usually comes from respiratory failure or pneumonia. In some cases, a small-bowel obstruction occurs when a tumor invades through the diaphragm. If a tumor extends into the pericardium, a thin membrane surrounding the heart, the patient could die from cardiac complications.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits

This is the only recourse for plaintiffs or their survivors for fighting back against this incurable disease. Back in the 1960s, thousands of lawsuits were filed against companies that either manufactured or allowed installation of asbestos products. Former employees, consumer and their families or survivors filed for monetary compensation and relief from expenses related to mesothelioma care and suffering.

A major argument that won these lawsuits was that those companies had known about the dangers of using asbestos, but they hid that knowledge and deliberately continued to manufacture and use asbestos-containing products. Juries awarded extensively high punitive damages on the grounds that those asbestos companies had acted “with malice” when they hid the proven dangers of asbestos. In 2001, the W.R. Grace Company vermiculite mining site in Libby, Montana, was designated as a SuperFund site. It became the most notable environmental disaster and an official EPA public health emergency by 2009, causing thousands of illnesses and deaths.

In subsequent years, people continued to pursue litigation, citing grounds of negligent behavior. People continue to suffer and die from mesothelioma they contracted decades earlier. Today, about 43,000 persons a year die from asbestos diseases. During a twenty year period from 1982 to 2002, claimants in lawsuits about asbestos products and diseases grew from 1,000 to 730,000. It is estimated that filings in this area of law will eventually reach over 1 million. As of 2013, the number of companies cited as asbestos defendants was over 10,000.

Many companies that have been sued have filed for bankruptcy protection. In response, asbestos trusts have been established to help provide compensation for future litigants. The assets in these trusts now are approaching $37 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office. Lawsuits are handled separately by each state. Some states have set a cap for award amounts and restricted claims and rights, while others have not. All cases are handled individually, and not as class actions, because each case is so different from others.

  • Personal Injury Claims – Persons suffering from mesothelioma and their survivors make claims for financial compensation to recover from expenses for medical care, pain and suffering, lost income, loss of quality of life and other harm.
  • Statutes of Limitations – Each state has its own statute of limitations that for filing claims. There may be as little as one year from discovery or diagnosis of this disease to make a claim, so it is important to contact an attorney quickly to file claims.
  • Class Actions – Not available due to the individualized nature of each individual’s case.
  • Notable Verdicts – Between 2003 and 2012, major verdicts that were awarded to victims of asbestos and mesothelioma in four cases were: $250 million, $18.5 million, $5.1 million and $48 million. The gap in time between exposure and death ranged from about 10 to 50 years.

Mesothelioma Attorney

If you believe you have contracted mesothelioma from past exposure to asbestos, it is essential to contact a qualified, experienced Mesothelioma Attorney right away. The same is true if you are the survivor of someone who died due to this disease. Statutes of Limitation vary by state and case; you may only be qualified to file for compensation for a short period of time, depending on your case and location.

An experienced Personal Injury Attorney who has handled many similar cases is your best advocate in this situation. They will have the needed specific knowledge about Mesothelioma and its impact on victims to prepare a solid case for obtaining the best possible results. Do not delay in seeking legal assistance, counsel or representation. Some cases take years to resolve, which is why most are settled prior to litigation in court. Victims may not even survive to realize the benefits, but survivors also may seek compensation for loss of their loved one and related expenses and damage claims.

Learn more about Mesothelioma Lawsuits and how our experienced Personal Injury Attorney can help you obtain fair compensation today. Call us now, to arrange a free consultation to discuss your concerns.

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Michael Bennett
About the Author

Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett is Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Since 1999, he's worked across a multitude of areas of consumer protection including defective products, environmental issues, identity theft, predatory lending and more. If you find his articles helpful please share them with your readers.