In spite of that, it has been reported that lead plaintiff Danny Dougan has been wheezing and complaining of shortness of breath. Is it due to an unusually early onset of asbestosis lung disease? Or is it due, as defendants suggest, from a years-long smoking habit?
The Journal Inquirer (2/12/16) reports that some workers involved in a 2010 reconstruction project at Sikorsky Aircraft, located in Stratford, may have been exposed to asbestos in spite their employer providing assurance that there was no asbestos present, or so it has been alleged.
According to the asbestosis lawsuit report, employees of Sikorsky, co-defendants Carrier Corp., and URS Corp. AES, and B-G Mechanical Contractors Inc. of Chicopee, Massachusetts (B-G), were tasked with the removal of pipes and fittings in a boiler house as part of a reconstruction that occurred between March and July 2010. The boiler house dated back to 1930 and is described as a “cogeneration” plant that produced both heat and electricity.
The use of asbestos as insulation for pipes and boilers was common practice in that era, prior to the carcinogenic risks of asbestos becoming more widely known to the greater population.
Lead plaintiff Dougan was an employee of B-G. Dougan and his fellow plaintiffs from B-G as well as other workers involved in the project inquired as to the presence of asbestos in the plant and what the risks might be. According to the asbestosis disease lawsuit, the workers were subsequently informed by the defendants that “testing had been done, that asbestos was not present on the pipes and pipe fittings, and that it was safe for them to do the work to which they had been assigned,” according to court documents related to the lawsuit.
It has been reported that workers commenced operations in the cogeneration plant amidst continued misgivings, and continued to raise the matter until testing was conducted in early July of that year.
The tests revealed the presence of asbestos. “Visible asbestos and overloaded air samples” were found as a result of improper disturbance of insulation containing asbestos on pipes and pipe fittings, the lawsuit alleges. “Despite these results, the project was not shut down until approximately two weeks later,” the suit continues, saying workers continued to be exposed during that time.
It was at this time that licensed asbestos contractors were brought in to safely remove asbestos. Sikorsky employees, who continued to operate the boilers and keep them active during the reconstruction project, began to wear respirators following the release of test results.
But by then, was it too late?
In approving class-action status for the asbestosis lung cancer lawsuit, Judge Grant Miller of Hartford Superior Court noted that employees of Sikorsky and Carrier would be limited as to their participation in the class-action lawsuit given existing rules governing Workers’ Compensation. The latter, according to the Journal Inquirer, makes it relatively easy for workers to collect asbestosis exposure compensation from their employers, but said compensation could be limited under Workers’ Compensation rules. Plaintiffs would have to litigate that point individually, as well as litigating the extent and nature of medical monitoring needed in order to minimize the negative health impacts of asbestos exposure going forward.
As noted earlier, the alleged exposure to asbestos occurred in 2010, or six years ago. Typically, asbestosis pleural plaques can languish within the body for upwards of 30 years before suddenly emerging in the form of asbestosis cancer. Thus the thrust of the asbestos lawsuit - which has been approved as a class action - would be the potential for asbestosis lung complications in forthcoming decades, and various applications of medical monitoring to be conducted over time that may succeed in minimizing adverse effects.
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The defendants in the lawsuit are expected to respond with Dr. Barry William Levine of Massachusetts General Hospital, who is expected to testify that Dougan does not suffer from asbestosis lung disease, but rather “Mr. Dougan does suffer from severe emphysema attributable to his long history of smoking cigarettes and, as a result, Mr. Dougan requires regular medical surveillance.”