Mesothelioma Lawsuits Frequently Asked Questions

How did you get into the field of mesothelioma and asbestos litigation?

I got started doing this in 1999, so about 21 years ago, and have been doing it consistently since that time, first for the first couple of years with another law firm that specialized in asbestos cases and, for the past 18 years, with my firm Belluck & Fox focusing almost entirely on mesothelioma cases and some lung cancer cases.

After I went to work in Washington, DC for a consumer advocacy group called Public Citizen, they focus on making sure that consumer products, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, everyday household products are safe for consumers. That experience led me to go to law school and focus my legal career on representing people who are injured by defective products, whether they be automobiles or pharmaceuticals or specialists.

After graduating from law school, I went to work for a law firm that was representing the State of New York and its tobacco litigation and was one of a small number of people that led New York State’s litigation against the tobacco industry. I had a role in shutting down two organizations that the tobacco industry had set up. One was called the Center for Tobacco Research, and the other was called the Tobacco Institute. These were industry funded groups that were turning out scientific literature that was quite biased and tried to lead to the conclusion that nicotine was not addictive, and tobacco was not dangerous.

They were both located in New York, and I spearheaded the effort to close down those two organizations, which we were successful in doing. Immediately after that I went to work on asbestos cases in part because the history of asbestos litigation is very similar to the history of tobacco litigation, where you have a set of companies that hid the dangers of the product and manipulated the scientific literature to try to demonstrate that the product was safe. And I’ve been doing that work ever since. The main reason I do it is it’s very, very meaningful. We believe very strongly that people with mesothelioma have suffered an injustice, that it was a preventable disease. If the asbestos industry had taken some simple steps to protect workers and other people, and we fight very, very hard to make sure that our clients get a just result. If you are looking for a New York mesothelioma lawyer, contact us today.

The tobacco industry is known for sponsoring misleading research. How about the asbestos industry?

Yes, absolutely. There is an interesting connection between the tobacco industry and the asbestos industry. Actually, a lot of people don’t know this, but the asbestos industry was actually one of the first industries that proceeded on this path of trying to generate scientific literature that showed that their product was safe and to manipulate the knowledge that the public and the press and scientists were getting. The asbestos industry did that before the tobacco industry. Some of that was also in the State of New York at a place called the Saranac Institute, which was a tuberculosis research entity in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. It was co-opted by Johns Manville and some other asbestos companies to research and then hide the results of the research. A lot of the law firms and public relations firms that were involved in the effort on behalf of the asbestos industry subsequently went to work for the tobacco industry and used a lot of the knowledge they got from doing this work for the asbestos industry to set up the political or lobbying and scientific research end of the tobacco industry. They were more successful with the tobacco industry than they were with the asbestos industry in doing it, but there was a connection between the two in terms of the players that were involved in doing that work for the industry.

Up until very recently, for example, in Canada, there was a tremendous amount of research taking place about the type of asbestos that is mined in Canada being safer than the type of asbestos that’s mined in other parts of the world. And it was very, very recently the Canadian government sort of retreated from that position, but for many, many years, you know, that research was being sponsored by the asbestos industry in Canada. Even in the United States, we’ve been unable to ban asbestos completely because of the industry lobby, which continues to peddle this myth that certain types of asbestos and certain types of applications are safe.

What is chrysotile asbestos? Is it safer?

Yes, absolutely, and it will be relevant also this conversation to I think some of the topics we’re going to cover about talc later on today, but asbestos this is a mineral and there are essentially six types of asbestos.

The two most commercially available types are chrysolite and chrysotile, and tremolite is another type of asbestos fiber, but there are six of these fiber types that are classified as asbestos from a mineral standpoint. And the chrysotile asbestos mostly comes from Canada. Chrysolite asbestos comes from other parts of the world, Australia, Africa, other places. Both of them were used commercially in the United States.

There is no government body that accepts the premise that chrysotile cannot cause mesothelioma, every government agency in the United States and, for the most part, around the world has taken the position that chrysotile asbestos can also cause mesothelioma. But the asbestos industry in Canada, the lawyers that represent asbestos companies in the United States, have developed a series of literature claiming that chrysotile does not cause mesothelioma. It’s only these other types of fibers like chrysolite that can cause mesothelioma. It is not something that they’re generally successful winning on in a court case because the evidence is so overwhelming that that’s not the case, but they’ve spent a tremendous amount of time muddying up the waters, and from a regulatory perspective have tried to prevent any regulation of chrysotile asbestos. As you were mentioning, chrysotile is often contaminated, with these other types of fibers in part, because especially this is something that’s mined out of the ground and when it’s mined it’s hard to just isolate a particular vein of mineral that would be all chrysotile. So much of the chrysotile is contaminated with things like tremolite, which is another asbestos fiber and has a significant potency to it.

We deal with this all the time in our cases and it’s another example of how the industry has manipulated the science with respect to asbestos and tried to allow the sale of chrysotile to continue. As I mentioned, up until very, very recently the Canadian government went along with this. It wasn’t until within the last couple of years when there was a series of groundbreaking newspaper articles and some of the Canadian newspapers and a number of scientists sort of broke ranks that the Canadian government has finally come around to the position that chrysotile is dangerous and can cause mesothelioma in and of itself, even if it’s not contaminated.

Why is it important for a mesothelioma patient to use a law firm that specializes in asbestos litigation?

As you know, doctor, mesothelioma, even though it’s gets a lot of attention, is a relatively rare disease. There are only about 3000 cases a year in the United States, and those numbers may be declining and as many people with mesothelioma figure out and, we certainly guide them in this direction, if you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, even if you have a very good local oncologist or local thoracic surgeon like yourself, local doctor in most parts of the United States is only going to see a handful of these cases a year medically. So, they’re not going to be as familiar with how to treat it. They’re not going to be as familiar with the latest research, the clinical trials, the protocols, and they’re not going to be as experienced in doing the surgeries and helping people with mesothelioma get the best treatment.

In the context of medical treatment, when we interact with a client, one of the things we do is make sure that they are going to a Mesothelioma Center, one that’s close to them or one that they can travel to. And that that Mesothelioma Center is working in conjunction with their local doctors, who again are maybe excellent doctors, but just don’t see enough mesothelioma cases to be expert in it. The same is true for us as lawyers. There are many good lawyers that help people who are injured but they don’t have the experience handling a mesothelioma case like our firm does, or a mesothelioma specialty firm like ours does. And it is a very steep learning curve for any lawyer, who’s just handling one mesothelioma case or a couple of mesothelioma cases to learn all of the science around it, including the issue of chrysotile or what type of fiber was in the product, to learn all the medicine about how asbestos fibers cause mesothelioma, and perhaps most importantly, to know all of the products that contained asbestos and the names of those products and when they were sold, and how they were used.

One of the features of asbestos mesothelioma is that there are lots of different ways that people can get exposed to asbestos. Some of them are very traditional, like a pipe fitter who put on insulation or boiler worker who worked with boilers, but we’ve also represented veterinarians who have used syringes that contained asbestos in the syringe. We’ve represented dentists to have used asbestos tape in making fittings, melting metal for fittings. We’ve represented artists who’ve using asbestos containing clay, doing ceramics, auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, teachers who have used laboratory equipment that contained asbestos, like Bunsen burners and things like that. If you’re not a specialist in this when your client contacts you, you’re not going to be able to help them figure out exactly how they were exposed. That’s a lot of the value that we add. Then once you figure out how they were exposed you need to know which companies to pursue. So, for example, if it’s a case involving a boiler, you need to know the 10 or 12 or 15 companies that made boilers, and not only which ones made boilers, but what parts of the country they were sold. There are companies that sold boilers in New York, but didn’t sell them in say Illinois, there are suppliers that did business in New York, but not in Illinois.

So, if you get a client from New York, they may have been exposed to a particular group of companies that someone in Illinois would not have been exposed to. Then you have to know the names of the products and the years that the products were used. A good example of that is a product that a lot of our clients use called joint compound, which is used when you’re putting sheet rock up, in the seams, you put it on to cover the seam so it can be painted. All of the joint compound in the United States was asbestos free by 1978. If you get a client who worked with the product before 78, it had asbestos. If you get a client who worked with the product after 78, it didn’t contain asbestos. There are so many companies that made asbestos products, so many types of exposures, and so many details like the dates and the packaging of the products that if you are not a mesothelioma law firm like ours, you’re really not going to be able to get the right results for someone with mesothelioma.

What is the investigative process to determine exposure when a mesothelioma patient contacts an asbestos law firm?