Mesothelioma, which is also known as “asbestos cancer,” is a highly aggressive and rare form of cancer. Although usually attacking the lining of the lung (pleural), Mesothelioma can also occur in the lining of the heart (pericardial) and abdominal cavity (peritoneal). Because the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, it is almost certain in any given diagnosis that asbestos caused the cancer. About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma cancer are diagnosed in the United State each year. Mesothelioma can appear in either men or women, at any age but it does occur more often in men than women and the risk increases with age.
The onset of mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos can take anywhere from 15 to 45 years. The first symptom is usually a constant pain in the chest and is accompanied by shortness of breath, or pain or swelling in the abdomen. Other symptoms include persistent coughing, coughing blood, fatigue and significant weight loss. The doctor may order an x-ray of the chest or abdomen or may look inside the chest cavity with a special instrument called a thoracoscope. A cut is made through the chest wall and the thoracoscope is inserted into the chest between two ribs. This test is called thoracoscopy and is usually done in the hospital. The doctor may also look inside an opening made in the abdomen with a peritoneoscope, in a procedure called a peritoneoscopy.
This test is also done in the hospital. If tissue is not found to be normal, the doctor will perform a biopsy. The biopsy will be done during the thoracoscopy or peritoneoscopy during which the doctor cuts out a small piece of tissue to have it examined under a microscope for the presence of to see if there are any cancer cells. A person’s life span is typically only 12 to 24 months after diagnosis of mesothelioma, but it depends on the size of the cancer, where it is, how far it has spread, how it responds to treatment and the health of the patient. Over 2000 deaths occur per year from this disease in the United States. The following are some recent mesothelioma verdicts from across the United States:
• A San Francisco jury awarded $10.3 million in damages to a 60-year-old man suffering from mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. George Barnes, a former navy shipfitter was awarded $9 million in non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, mental anguish, and more.
• A jury returned a verdict in favor of a retired machinist and his wife in their products liability and negligence trial against John Crane, Inc., a former manufacturer of asbestos-containing valve and pump packing, and Thorpe Insulation Company, a former supplier and distributor of asbestos thermal insulation. The jury assessed over $550,000 in economic damages, $1.1 million in non-economic damages and $250,000 for loss of consortium.
• Stephanie Foster learned in 1999 that she had mesothelioma, the most serious of all asbestos-related diseases caused by fibers lodged in the lungs. The Missouri woman died from the condition at the age of 42. Stephanie was exposed to asbestos as a toddler. Her father, Robert Foster Jr., had worked for an Aerojet contractor 40 years before, machining asbestos on a lathe. “He would come home from work and grab his little girl and give her a hug — with no idea that he carried asbestos on his clothes,” said Ted Gianaris, a lawyer for Stephanie’s family. The defendant, Aerojet-General Corporation, a Rancho Cordova, California, maker of rocket and missile motors for the military, had denied ever using asbestos. “We repeatedly asked Aerojet about the use of asbestos and they said no, no, no,” said attorney Randall Bono. “But we found evidence otherwise.” The defendant was sanctioned and defense lawyers were barred from presenting evidence that the company had never used asbestos in its products. The judge also directed the jury to find that the plaintiff was exposed as a child and that the company knew the material was hazardous at the time. Stephanie’s family was awarded $5.1 million by the St. Louis jury.
We are continuing to review cases of mesothelioma contracted as a result of exposure to asbestos. Mike Andrews is the lead mesothelioma lawyer on those cases for the firm.
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