Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Do You Have an Asbestos Claim? Asbestos Attorney Weighs In…

June 16, 2011

New York, NY How do you know whether you have a legitimate asbestos claim? Are you wondering if your respiratory issues could be caused by asbestos fibers in your home? Former nurse and asbestos attorney Steve Knowlton, partner at Locks Law Firm answers some of your common questions regarding asbestos-related legal issues.

LawyersandSettlements (LAS): What is required to diagnose asbestos-related diseases?

Steve Knowlton (SK): A chest x-ray and a comprehensive medical history is sufficient to determine whether you have asbestosis.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually based on pathology. If someone has pulmonary mesothelioma of the lung or lung cavity, they will usually have pneumonia-like symptoms. And it's not uncommon for a pleural collection of fluid to be found between the lining of the lung and the lung. A doctor can see the fluid on an x-ray and they will usually perform a tap. Then they will send it to pathology where a diagnosis is usually made at that time.

LAS: Can anyone exposed to asbestos, say in their home, get an asbestos-related disease?

SK: In order for the vast majority of people to develop an asbestos-related disease or symptom(s), occupational exposure to asbestos is required, meaning they were exposed to asbestos day after day on the job over a period of years. Although city dwellers are exposed every day—simply by being in Manhattan—in order to cause disease, the exposures must be significant and over a long period of time. Sometimes folks have a genetic propensity to develop disease after limited asbestos exposure, but they are few and far between.

LAS: If I have asbestos in my home should I be concerned?

SK: Generally if you suspect that there is asbestos in the home, have a professional determine whether it must be removed. Generally, if the asbestos is in an area where it will not be disturbed, causing dust in the air, some experts believe it does not pose a health risk and need not be removed. If you suspect asbestos exposure because you have respiratory issues, it's more likely that your cold-like symptoms are caused by pollen or your pet. However, the best course of action is always to consult an expert for advice about asbestos removal. And of course, never self-diagnose—see your doctor!

LAS: Who is a typical asbestos victim?

SK: The usual type of asbestos victims are workers who installed, manufactured, maintained or worked with asbestos insulation and products in their jobs (for example, pipefitters, insulators and shipyard workers). The types of residential asbestos claims we see are from contractors who installed asbestos in residential buildings years ago. Secondary exposure claims are usually from the spouses of asbestos workers who come home and their clothes are covered with the material. Over many years, that can result in significant exposure for their spouses who handle and wash their clothing year after year. And it is unusual—but not unheard of—for people with non-occupational exposure to develop these diseases.

LAS: Do you see asbestosis claims where the victim settles for a small financial amount?

SK: Claims resolve based on how severe the injury is. For persons diagnosed only with asbestosis whose claims can be settled, most asbestos attorneys ask the defendant to accept a limited release, which would permit the victim to return to the litigation system if they develop a more serious asbestos-related disease down the road, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.

LAS: Do most defendants agree on a limited release?

SK: I'm not sure about every state. It depends on whether the defendant will see it as a positive for their side, i.e., settle relatively inexpensively now rather than litigate and take that small gamble that the plaintiff (victim) won't develop a more serious asbestos-related disease like lung cancer or mesothelioma later.