Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was commonly used in construction and manufacturing throughout the 20th century in the United States.
Unfortunately, asbestos can be extremely harmful to humans.
Research has shown that exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
Although asbestos is no longer used in the United States, toxic tort lawsuits based on asbestos exposure continue to flood courtrooms all around the country.
In one of the most recent asbestos exposure lawsuits, the husband of South Carolina resident Kathy Lynne Weist was awarded $32 million.
What happened to Kathy Lynne Weist?
Kathy Lynne Weist’s father worked with asbestos-contaminated products from 1957-1997 at a facility in South Carolina formerly owned by the Kraft Heinz Company. In the 1980s, Kathy’s husband Robert also worked at the facility.
At the end of every workday, Kathy’s father—and later her husband—came home wearing clothes contaminated with asbestos dust. On most evenings, Kathy would launder the asbestos-contaminated work clothes.
In 2019, Kathy developed mesothelioma—a rare form of lung cancer caused by asbestos. Two years later, she died at the age of 62.
The toxic tort lawsuit and verdict
Kathy’s husband, Robert Weist, filed a wrongful death lawsuit on March 29, 2021. The lawsuit named the Kraft Heinz Company and Metal Masters as defendants. Metal Masters supplied the asbestos-containing materials used in the facility owned by the Kraft Heinz Company.
A trial took place in front of Chief Justice Jean Toal, who presides over South Carolina’s asbestos docket.
During the trial, Robert’s attorney argued that Kathy developed mesothelioma as a result of her exposure to asbestos in the facility and that the defendants had a duty to notify workers of the dangers.
Robert’s attorney stressed that much of the exposure took place in the 1980s, several years after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) put regulations in place requiring companies to prevent workers from taking asbestos home on their clothing.
The defendants argued that the materials used in the facility could not be proven to be the cause of Kathy’s cancer.
After a 4-day trial, the jury awarded Robert $32 million. The award broke down as follows:
- $11 million for Kathy’s survival damages (survival damages are those suffered by the victim between the time of their injury and death)
- $11 million for wrongful death damages
- $10 million for punitive damages against the Kraft Heinz Company
“Kathy was loved by all and it was a great loss to her community,” Robert’s attorney said. “This was a completely avoidable case of cancer which has destroyed the soul of this family and their local community.”
Legal options for secondhand exposure to asbestos
“Primary exposure” to asbestos happens when a person works directly with asbestos or is otherwise exposed to an area where asbestos is present.
“Secondhand exposure” occurs when a worker brings home asbestos fibers on their clothing and other people are exposed to the fibers. This secondhand exposure can happen in a number of ways, including coming into contact with contaminated laundry or simply sitting on the same furniture as the person who carried the fibers home.
Much like primary exposure, secondhand exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health consequences.
The company responsible for exposing a worker to asbestos can be held liable if the worker brings the asbestos home on their clothing and exposes a family member.
To hold a company liable, the person exposed secondhand will need to trace the exposure back to the company and prove that the company’s negligence resulted in the primary exposure.
Proving negligence requires a plaintiff to establish the following elements:
- The defendant had a duty to act with reasonable care,
- The defendant breached their duty, and
- The breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
The main challenge in secondhand exposure cases is the same challenge that exists in primary exposure cases: proving that the defendant caused the injury.
Proving causation is challenging because asbestos exposure typically doesn’t produce any harm until years or even decades after the initial exposure. For example, symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30-40 years after exposure. This time gap allows the defendant to argue that some intervening factor, such as exposure to asbestos from some other source, may have actually caused the harm.
Do you have a family member who was regularly exposed to asbestos? Were you around this family member during the time of exposure?
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