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Mesothelioma Legal Issues

By , MD, PhD

Mesothelioma is considered a signal tumor for asbestos exposure which typically occurs decades after the first exposure to asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma laws were created in order to ensure that victims are adequately compensated by their employers if they have been exposed to it in the workplace. A majority of these cases are thought to be caused by employer's failure to provide appropriate protective equipment.

Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma can claim compensation with the help of an experienced mesothelioma lawyer to reimburse their medical costs, as well as to compensate for the accompanying pain and suffering. Nevertheless, the legal process for mesothelioma claims can be overlong, highly complex and expensive. Thus the insurance industry is campaigning for improved processes that will allow mesothelioma sufferers to settle their cases swiftly.

Legal history

Asbestos is a material that was habitually used in the construction and manufactory industries between the 1950s and the 1980s. Exposure to asbestos was a regular occurrence for people who worked in these industries during this time due to the inhalation of dust and fibers. It was later discovered that the inhalation of asbestos was the main cause of mesothelioma.

The first claims for compensation in the United States due to the asbestos-related illness were made in 1929. As the first lawsuit was settled among the parties, the attorneys did not pursue further cases. Still, during that time period claimants began filing asbestos-related lawsuits claiming negligence on the part of some asbestos product manufacturers.

Dismissing early evidence of asbestos toxicity, mining for crocidolite (also known as blue asbestos) began in 1943 in Wittenoom – a town in Western Australia whose name has become synonymous with asbestos disaster and has been removed from the country’s maps. Between 1961 and 1965, more than 100 cases of lung disease associated with asbestos mining and milling were reported.

The Asbestos Diseases Society was introduced to represent the Wittenoom victims, and by 1979 the first write-up was publicly issued reporting negligence from a mining company towards this town. 85 Wittenoom plant workers had died of malignant mesothelioma by 1986, and estimations are that by 2020 as many as 700 people could contract mesothelioma or another asbestos disease due to this exposure.

In the famous case of Fairchild vs. Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd in the United Kingdom, the claimant had worked for three different employers where he was exposed to asbestos dust and subsequently developed mesothelioma. Although the High Court ruled against his claim, the matter went before the House of Lords who overturned the previous decision and found in favor of Mr. Fairchild.

Changing the future

As a response to the demands from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) who wants the government to rid the country of asbestos by 2030, the Australian government found the Office for Asbestos Safety in 2012 and released a first draft of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management. The plan outlines the identification and removal of asbestos in the country, and several government research projects are now underway.

In January 2014, the British Government passed the Mesothelioma Act 2014 legislation in order to establish the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS). Funded by the insurance industry, this scheme will make payments to approximately 3,000 mesothelioma sufferers who cannot find an insurer or employer to claim from, especially those diagnosed after 25 July 2012.

Although malignant mesothelioma remains a rare form of cancer, the disease is on the rise due to the spread of asbestos use over past decades. Disease burden is still the highest in the developed countries; however, since asbestos use has also recently increased in developing countries, a matching shift in disease occurrence is anticipated.

Sources

  1. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/1/pdfs/ukpga_20140001_en.pdf
  2. http://www.cila.co.uk/files/Liability/Mesothelioma%20Compensation.pdf
  3. http://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/11-086678.pdf
  4. Leahy K. Asbestos Exposure and the Law in the United States. In: Craighead JE, Gibbs AR. Asbestos and its Diseases. Oxford University Press, 2008; pp. 346-374.
  5. Galateau-Sallé F. Pathology of Malignant Mesothelioma. Springer Science & Business Media, 2010; pp. 1-10.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 11, 2015

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