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Lung Cancer Claims, Settlements, and Lawsuits

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Many cases of lung cancer in older adults can be linked to asbestos

For decades, millions of Americans were exposed to asbestos, a mineral now known to be a serious health and safety hazard. Unfortunately, even though its use was largely discontinued in the United States in the 1980s, we're still dealing with the long-term effects of exposure decades later. Many older Americans exposed to asbestos during their working years are now dealing with mesothelioma and lung cancer.

For people in this situation, compensation may be available, but a significant amount of research and investigation must be done to seek legal recourse. An experienced lung cancer attorney can conduct this investigation and find sources of compensation.

What is asbestos, and how was it used?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral composed of long, thin, fibrous crystals. When asbestos is disturbed, these fibers can be released into the air and then inhaled, causing damage to the lungs.

Asbestos has historically been used as an insulation and fireproofing material. It was widely used in construction throughout the United States until the 1980s, along with applications in personal protective equipment (such as gloves). Industries that needed fireproof equipment also made extensive use of the material; for instance, gaskets in oil and petrochemical facilities were routinely manufactured from asbestos. Asbestos was also used in vehicles and numerous maritime applications.

Which occupations were exposed to asbestos?

Because asbestos was so commonly used before the 1980s, workers in a wide range of jobs were at risk for exposure. Some of those occupations include:

  • Construction and demolition workers, especially those who worked with ceiling and floor tiles, roofing materials, insulation, pipes, and wall plaster.
  • Insulators, especially those who worked around machinery.
  • Plumbers and pipefitters.
  • Firefighters.
  • Auto mechanics via clutch facings, brake shoes, and linings.
  • Boilermakers.
  • Shipyard workers.
  • Electricians, HVAC technicians, and other home services.
  • Industrial workers.
  • Power plant workers.
  • Miners.
  • Textile workers.
  • Oil field workers.
  • Railroad industry workers.
  • Foundry workers.
  • Chemical plant workers.
  • Factory workers.
  • Plant workers.
  • Paper mill workers.
  • Military veterans, especially Navy veterans, but all branches of the armed services used asbestos in buildings, vehicles, and aircraft.

In addition, some spouses and family members of workers in these industries had "take-home exposure" via the worker's clothes or hair. For instance, wives would often be exposed when washing their husbands' work clothes.

Asbestos exposure was particularly common in certain geographic areas with high concentrations of shipping and industrial activity, such as the Gulf Coast. However, it truly is a national problem.

The link between asbestos and lung cancer

Asbestos is most commonly associated with mesothelioma. However, all types of lung cancer are associated with asbestos exposure, including:

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC), which grows and spreads quickly, but also tends to be more responsive to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC), which includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

There are several ways asbestos can cause lung cancer. One hazard is the presence of free radicals in the lungs, which can damage DNA and allow cancer to develop. Another is physical interference with certain cellular processes, which can cause lung cells to copy incorrectly. Lung inflammation and irritation caused by asbestos fibers can lead to cellular damage, increasing the risk of cancer over time.

These processes don't happen overnight, however. The latency period (time between asbestos exposure and lung cancer development) can be years or even decades. It's not unheard of for people exposed to asbestos in their late teens and twenties to develop lung cancer in their sixties, seventies, or even later in life. No matter the length of the latency period, victims have legal rights.

Legal options for lung cancer victims

In the 1990s, many companies that previously manufactured asbestos products filed for bankruptcy. As part of the bankruptcy process, those companies put aside money in trust funds to compensate future victims. An estimated $30 billion is still available in those trust funds today, although gathering comprehensive figures is difficult.

People with an asbestos-related lung cancer diagnosis can file a claim using the following process:

  • File a claim with the appropriate trust fund. This generally requires information on the source of exposure, occupational history, and asbestos-related diagnosis.
  • Choose between expedited and individual reviews. Expedited review is a generally faster process in which the claim is grouped with similar claims for a fixed payment. Individual review is generally slower, but it can produce a higher payout depending on the circumstances.
  • The claim is liquidated based on the diagnosis and the payment percentage. Unfortunately, many trust funds have become depleted, so they can only pay a percentage of the value of each claim. However, one victim may also be eligible to file claims with multiple trust funds.
  • Payment is received and generally must be accepted within 30 days.

To be eligible for a trust fund claim, you must prove that you were exposed to asbestos via products manufactured by the company associated with the trust fund before a certain year, usually 1982 As such, most people who file trust fund claims today are in their mid-sixties and older.

People exposed to asbestos manufactured by companies that are still solvent (that is, they haven't declared bankruptcy) can file lung cancer lawsuits against those companies. Such lawsuits can be resolved through a negotiated settlement or a jury trial. You can also file both a lawsuit and a trust fund claim if your situation meets the criteria for both.

Smoking and other causes of lung cancer

While mesothelioma is unambiguously caused by asbestos exposure, lung cancer has many causes, including cigarette smoking and other hazardous chemicals. It's important to know that you can still file a claim for asbestos exposure even if you have another lung cancer risk factor, such as smoking and Agent Orange exposure. In addition, you need not prove that asbestos was the sole cause of your lung cancer, only that it was a possible contributing factor.

Asbestos and cigarette smoke, in particular, have what's called a synergistic effect, meaning that the effects of smoking and asbestos exposure are actually multiplied to determine a person's overall risk of lung cancer. So, smokers who were exposed to asbestos have a much higher risk of lung cancer than smokers who were not exposed. This multiplicative effect is one reason why it's so important to pursue accountability for asbestos exposure, even among smokers.

Many people with lung cancer claims today are veterans who were exposed to other toxins during their military service, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam. Again, just because you were exposed to another toxic chemical does not bar you from pursuing an asbestos claim. Filing an asbestos trust fund claim or lawsuit does not impact veterans' benefits.

Talk to an experienced lung cancer attorney about your options

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, are over age 62, and have a history of asbestos exposure, it's highly likely that you are eligible for compensation. However, the only way to know is to talk to an experienced lung cancer attorney about your legal options. Lung cancer claims require extensive investigation, so it's in your interest to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Schedule your free consultation today.

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Ferrell Law Group
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Based in Houston, serving clients nationwide, the Ferrell Law Group represents victims of mesothelioma and other types of lung cancer. Founding attorney James Ferrell has over thr...