Asbestos Lawsuits Everyone Should Know About

by tylercook on November 28, 2013

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The use of asbestos in construction projects presents a danger to the health of individuals in the United States. Those exposed to high concentrations of asbestos face a debilitating process, in which fibers become lodged in lung tissue. This causes significant damage and, over time, can promote the onset of chronic illnesses, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. To protect public safety, the federal government has been actively regulating the manufacture and application of asbestos since the early ‘70s.

Asbestos Regulation

One of the initial regulatory actions related to asbestos was the establishment of strict exposure limits by OSHA in 1971. Initially intended to protect employees and industrial workers in commercial settings, these requirements were later expanded to include outright bans in areas where cigarette smoking is permitted, as the two together present an extreme risk of lung cancer development.

Even with increased government oversight throughout the next three decades, the incidence of asbestos-related disease continued to rise, as did the number of legal cases. In 1982, there were only about 1,000 total civil asbestos lawsuits in the U.S.; by 2002, this number had grown to well over 700,000. Defendants in these cases were highly diverse, including 8,400 separate asbestos manufacturers.

Accompanying this trend was an opportunity for those in the legal profession to benefit from large, class-action settlements. It is still common to see television advertisements from law firms specifically seeking individuals diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Within the multitude of cases that have taken place over the last several decades, there are a few that occupy an especially influential place in the history of asbestos litigation.

Borel v. Fibreboard

This 1973 case involved an industrial insulation employee named Clarence Borel, who developed both asbestosis and mesothelioma after a 33-year career in the industry. He brought a civil lawsuit against five insulation manufacturing companies, which, he asserted, had failed to notify workers of the health dangers associated with daily handling of materials containing asbestos. After his death prior to the case moving to trial, his wife stepped in as a replacement plaintiff and won a large judgment against all five defendants.

This case was important for several reasons. Most prominently, however, it marked the first time a civil asbestos case had been successfully argued in a court of law. Critical pieces of research were also presented over the course of the proceedings that definitively demonstrate a connection between industrial exposure to asbestos and later development of asbestosis.

Dunn v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass

As with Borel v. Fibreboard, this case involved the development of asbestosis in a long-time industrial employee who had been in daily contact with asbestos dust. William Dunn had spent his career working with Kaylo-brand insulation, manufactured by Owens-Corning Fiberglass in various pipe-fitting positions. After he received an asbestosis diagnosis, he brought a successful lawsuit against Owens-Corning Fiberglass.

The jury initially awarded $25 million in punitive damages. Owens-Corning, however, fought to block the judgment by attempting to argue that the company had already paid restitution to plaintiffs with a similar grievance and should be eligible for lessened punishment. Despite these efforts, the original decision was upheld, and an important legal precedent was established: an award amount cannot be impacted by the presence of similar lawsuits against a defendant.


Chris Shoemaker writes on law, politics and criminal justice. Those who’d like to learn more about legal issues related to asbestos including asbestos settlement should contact Shrader Law.




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