Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. In fact, there are several naturally occurring deposits of asbestos in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Due to the strength and flexibility of its fibers, asbestos has been used in many different types of industrial products, including pipe covering, gaskets, fire blankets, cement, flooring, insulation, automotive brakes, joint compounds used for drywall, and other building materials.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to several serious diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Those who worked in industries that used or manufactured asbestos-containing products have an elevated risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. So do their family members, who may have been exposed to asbestos from their loved ones’ clothes.
Michigan is home to many of the industries that used or manufactured asbestos-containing products, including:
– Steel mills
– Power plants
– Oil refineries
– Chemical plants
– Automotive plants, including the Ford Rouge Plant
– Paper Mills
Also, certain trades, such as plumbers, pipefitters, boilermakers, insulators, bricklayers, laborers, sheet-metal workers, plasterers and drywallers routinely used asbestos-containing products. These trades worked at many different job sites where they both used asbestos-containing products and where they were also exposed to asbestos-containing products used by others. These job sites include commercial, industrial and residential job sites.
Mesothelioma is one of the most commonly recognized asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that attacks the mesothelium, the protective lining around the internal organs like the heart, lung and intestines. There are different types of mesothelioma depending on which mesothelium is affected by the cancer. For example, pleural mesothelioma refers to mesothelioma of the lungs while peritoneal mesothelioma refers to mesothelioma in the abdomen.
While there are isolated cases of people who have had no known exposure to asbestos who develop the cancer, the overwhelming majority of people with mesothelioma have a documented history of asbestos exposure. According to the National Cancer Institute, the majority of all people with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos at some point during their lifetimes.
The types of symptoms a person with mesothelioma will develop depend in part on which mesothelium has been affected by the cancer. In general, some of the symptoms a person may develop include:
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain or back pain
– Weight loss
– Abdominal pain and swelling
– Bowel obstruction
– Blood clotting abnormalities
– Trouble swallowing
– Neck and face swelling
It can take 30 to 50 years after asbestos exposure before a person will develop symptoms of mesothelioma. Michigan ranks 12th in the US in the number of mesothelioma cases.
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure also has been linked to other cancers, including lung cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer and laryngeal cancer. Although smoking may also play a role in lung cancer, it has been shown that the risk of lung cancer is multiplied many times by the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure.
Asbestos exposure can also cause a non-cancerous chronic lung condition called asbestosis. Asbestosis is caused when asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs, causing damage which eventually develops into scar tissue. Shortness of breath upon exertion is a classic symptom of asbestosis.
Available Legal Options
If you or a loved one has developed an asbestos-related illness or disease, you have legal options available to you under Michigan law. In general, the most common type of claim in asbestos cases is a products liability claim.
In a products liability claim, the manufacturer, distributor, seller or anyone else in the chain of distribution may be held legally responsible for injuries caused by a dangerous product. Since most of the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products knew or should have known of the dangers of asbestos going back as early as the 1930’s and 1940’s, they have been held liable for their failure to warn the workers who used these products.
Because asbestos was known by the manufacturers and suppliers to be a dangerous product, so long as a plaintiff can prove a casual connection between his or her injury and an asbestos-containing product, then the manufacturer or other party may be held legally liable for the resulting injuries.
Michigan has a three-year statute of limitations for most tort claims, including product liability claims. Generally speaking, the three year limit begins running from the date the person knew or should have known he or she had been injured. In asbestos cases, this usually means that the statute of limitations begins running on the day the person was diagnosed with an illness or injury related to asbestos exposure. However, there are exceptions to every rule and evaluating statute of limitations issues is complicated and requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.
It is important for those who have worked in places where they may have come into contact with asbestos to have their health regularly monitored by physicians. Not only will this help the person safeguard their legal rights, but more importantly, it also will help the person safeguard his or her health. For most types of cancer, early detection is the best way to secure the most favorable outcome against the disease.