An $80 million asbestos lawsuit settlement was reached on October 26 by two former Jackson County, Missouri employees who were exposed to asbestos during a renovation of the county courthouse in the 1980s.
The asbestos settlement will include as much as $25 million in attorney’s fees that were charged to litigate this case. The rest will be put into a medical monitoring fund that is believed to be the biggest ever in an asbestos case in Missouri. This will cover all costs of any diagnostic tests that are done on the exposed for the next 30 years.
Jackson County and Kansas City-based U.S. Engineering was the firm that handled the asbestos removal during the renovations of the building. It agreed to settle the lawsuit rather than go to trial. There are no county tax dollars paying for the settlement.
A judge will finalize the settlement before the end of the year. Plaintiffs and any class action lawsuit members will be informed by mail.
At least 7500 people could be eligible for the medical screenings. These will include workers who were employed at the courthouse and also attorneys, jurors and jail inmates.
What Is Pleural Mesothelioma?
One of the most common diseases that can be contracted from asbestos exposure is pleural mesothelioma. This affects the very thin layers of tissue that cover your body’s organs. It is a very serious cancer that can spread to other areas in the body. It is extremely important for early detection and treatment to be done.
However, it can take a long time for serious symptoms to present themselves, so the disease can be very hard to treat in later stages. Prognosis is very poor.
As soon as it is diagnosed, Mesothelioma treatment must begin right away. The patient should work with an experienced oncologist to fight the disease and to improve the survival rate. If the cancer is found early, removal by surgery is an option. Chemotherapy and radiation also can be options for patients when the cancer is found early enough.
The injured and affected are being split into two groups. The first will be those who believe they were exposed to asbestos from 1983 to 1985 and are able to prove that they were in the courthouse for 80 hours at least during those years. They will be able to get complete medical examinations, which include chest X-rays and screening of the blood to check for biomarkers that indicate an asbestos-related illness.
The other group is for those who were working in the courthouse for at least 80 hours in any year after the work was completed, through 2007. They will be eligible for free screenings every five years.
Jackson County thanked US Engineering for resolving the issue in a settlement.
The case involving the courthouse first came to light in March 2015 when a newspaper article had a description of the working conditions that were present during the renovation project in the 1980s.
One of the plaintiffs, Jeanne Morgan, worked there for several years and she testified in 2014 that there was a great amount of dust and grit that coated everything in her work area on the 5th floor. It was blowing out of air vents when workers had sawed through heating pipes that were insulated with layers of asbestos. The workers actually tracked asbestos-laden dust through the entire building as they brought pipe down in the elevator.
During this entire renovation process, there were no precautions taken, and there were no gloves or masks used. Nor did they post any warning signs. Employees stated that asbestos particles and dust were all over office papers, desks, floors, stairways and more. One of the woman’s co-workers died from mesothelioma at 56 in 2010.
The problem with asbestos fibers is that they do not break down in the body, as hard as the body tries to do so. The sharp fibers embed deep into lung tissue and this leads to scar tissue. In some cases, deadly tumors can grow. It may take decades for mesothelioma to occur, but when it does, it is nearly always fatal.
Originally, US Engineering and Jackson County claimed that there was not any proof that any workers were hurt by the removal of asbestos. However, the class action suit claimed that thousands of workers were potentially harmed by asbestos exposure. The Mesothelioma lawsuit also claimed that all of them should be able to get free medical testing for life.
The MO Supreme Court first started to allow medical monitoring lawsuits in 2007. The ruling allowed groups of people who have been exposed to various toxic materials to get compensation for chest x-rays and other diagnostic tests for decades, even if there was no sign of illness.