If I was exposed to asbestos at work, is anyone aside from my employer liable?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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Aside from employers who knowingly expose workers to asbestos, asbestos lawsuits usually brought against three types of defendants: (1) suppliers of raw asbestos fiber; (2) manufacturers of asbestos products; and (3) manufacturers of safety equipment.
The courts have held the suppliers of raw asbestos fibers and the manufacturers of asbestos products liable for making an unreasonably dangerous product under the legal theory of “product liability.” This theory states that a manufacturer of a product that is unreasonably dangerous when used as it is intended to be used is liable for damages resulting from the use of that product. While the suppliers and manufacturers have argued that they did not intend asbestos to be inhaled, the courts have found that this was a foreseeable occurrence when working with asbestos and have held them liable. However, most of these manufacturers and suppliers have declared bankruptcy, so damages are limited and sometimes nonexistent.
For many years, the safety equipment provided by some employers was completely ineffective against asbestos, a fact which was known to the manufacturers of that safety equipment. For example, some manufacturers of dust masks marketed those masks as filtering out asbestos fibers; however, it has now been determined that the masks did not filter out asbestos and the manufacturers knew this at the time they were marketing them in that way. Therefore, even if you were issued safety equipment, you will want to investigate what safety equipment your employer gave you and whether that equipment was actually safeguarding you against the effects of asbestos exposure. The manufacturer of the equipment may try to defend by stating that it did not know whether or not the equipment would protect against asbestos exposure. However, if the equipment was marketed as protecting against asbestos, that defense will fail. And if the safety equipment you were issued was not rated and not marketed as protecting against asbestos, you will have additional evidence of liability against your employer.