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Asbestos and Environmental Law

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MassachusettsAny asbestos lawsuit, whether it be founded upon asbestosis, asbestos mesothelioma, asbestos cancer or any other form of asbestos disease carries underpinnings of environmental law. That’s because the environment is such an integral component of today’s safe workplace, that environmental law policy is central to how employers create and maintain their work environments, and how they equip employees working with hazardous materials to protect their health.

Gone are the days when full-press ‘hazmat’ lawsuits were reserved for dealing with dangerous and lethal infections such as Ebola, for example. The reality of the damage that asbestos can do to the respiratory system and internal organs is such that employees renovating an old building containing asbestos must wear protective gear from head to toe, reflective of a complete separation between the worker and the material with which he is working.

Renovators are also required to contain the work area so no asbestos dust or fibers can migrate into the open air, putting passersby at risk. Disposal of asbestos has also evolved to a tightly-regulated task under environmental law and policy largely undertaken by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And yet, there are those who don’t take the rules – and the potentially lethal personality of asbestos – seriously. Harder still is the fact that for someone coming into contact with asbestos today, symptoms may not emerge for upwards of 30 years, or longer. Asbestos, ingested through the lungs for example, carries an incubation period of three decades or longer before the asbestos dragon emerges from its lair. By then, it’s too late for the employee.

Last month, a Massachusetts jury returned a $7.55 million verdict to the plaintiff in an asbestos lawsuit. According to Law360 (09/22/17), plaintiff Gerald Sylvestre was diagnosed with asbestos cancer two years ago. He was healthy up until that time. Since then, the plaintiff has undergone numerous surgical procedures and chemotherapy. His life has been negatively impacted as a result.

Here’s the thing: Sylvestre associated his exposure to asbestos with his employment that dated back to the 1960s and 1970s. He had not, knowingly been exposed to asbestos since.

Employees working within industrial applications involving asbestos – or renovating around asbestos before current regulations came into force – are becoming ill decades after exposure, rather than closer to the time of exposure.

In rare instances, the spouses of workers having brought asbestos fibers into their car and home by wearing work clothes from the contaminated job location, have become ill from second-hand exposure. Some have died.

The EPA has a wealth of information available online in an effort to educate both consumers and professionals as to the hazards of asbestos, and current regulations surrounding its use, removal and handling.

It has been reported that the Sylvestre verdict was the largest of its kind in an asbestos-related case in New England. Law360 reports the verdict breaks down to $3 million for medical expenses, $3 million for pain and suffering and $50,000 in lost earning capacity. Sylvestre’s wife was then given the remaining $1.5 million for loss of companionship.

The case is Gerald and Marjorie Sylvestre v. New England Insulation Company, Civil action No. 15-7031, in the Middlesex County Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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