Understand your right to compensation if you or a loved one developed asbestosis after asbestos exposure at work
The dangers of asbestos exposure are all too real for certain workers in Phoenix, particularly those in construction, shipbuilding, and other industries that have historically used asbestos-containing materials.
Prolonged exposure to this hazardous substance can lead to a host of health problems, including asbestosis—a chronic lung disease that has severe, life-altering implications. Despite regulatory measures, workers are still at risk, making it crucial to be vigilant about workplace safety.
If you or a loved one is facing health issues due to asbestos exposure at work, it’s important to understand your rights and legal options.
What is asbestosis?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers used in a variety of building materials and insulation due to their heat-resistant properties. It becomes particularly dangerous when its fibers become airborne and are inhaled or ingested. This usually happens when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, damaged or deteriorate over time.
Activities such as drilling, sawing, demolishing or even scraping can release tiny asbestos fibers into the air. Once inhaled, these microscopic fibers can become lodged in the lungs, causing inflammation and scarring over time.
Asbestosis is the name for the chronic lung disease that results from the prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers. The disease primarily affects lung tissue and the pleura, a thin membrane that covers the lungs. As the tissue becomes scarred and inflamed, it thickens and stiffens, making it increasingly difficult for the lungs to expand and contract normally. This leads to reduced lung function, shortness of breath and, in severe cases, respiratory failure.
The risk of developing asbestosis is generally related to the duration and level of asbestos exposure, with higher risks associated with longer periods of exposure.
Is asbestosis the same as mesothelioma?
No, asbestosis is not the same as mesothelioma. Asbestosis and mesothelioma are two distinct medical conditions caused by exposure to asbestos, but they affect different parts of the body and have different characteristics:
- Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that primarily affects the lungs and the pleura, the thin membrane covering the lungs. It occurs when asbestos fibers become trapped in the lungs, leading to inflammation and scarring of lung tissue. This scarring makes it harder for the lungs to expand and contract, resulting in breathing difficulties and decreased lung function. Asbestosis is considered a non-cancerous lung disease.
- Mesothelioma, on the other hand, is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that primarily affects the mesothelium, a protective lining surrounding organs like the lungs, heart, and abdomen. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, with asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the mesothelium. Over time, this can lead to the development of cancerous tumors. Mesothelioma can affect various organs and is typically associated with a poor prognosis. Unlike asbestosis, mesothelioma is a cancer.
What are the first signs of asbestosis?
The first signs of asbestosis can be subtle and may not appear until many years after exposure to asbestos. These initial symptoms often resemble those of less serious respiratory conditions, making early diagnosis challenging.
Some of the first signs of asbestosis may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Enlarged fingertips (called clubbing)
- Persistent dry cough
- Chest tightness or chest pain
- Crackling sound when breathing
- Fatigue and reduced tolerance for physical activity
- Weight loss
If you have a history of exposure to asbestos and begin to experience any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to consult a health care provider for a thorough evaluation. Early diagnosis and management can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.
Is asbestosis related to work?
Yes, asbestosis is an occupational disease commonly related to exposure to asbestos. Workers who are most at risk of developing asbestosis are those in industries and jobs where asbestos has been commonly used. This includes:
- Construction workers, especially those involved in demolition or renovation of older buildings that contain asbestos
- Firefighters, especially if they frequently battle fires in older buildings where asbestos-containing materials may be present
- Shipyard workers, as asbestos was often used in shipbuilding materials
- Miners who have worked in asbestos mines
- Automotive mechanics, particularly those working on older vehicles that may contain asbestos brake linings or clutch pads
- Factory workers involved in producing asbestos-containing materials
- Insulation installers and tile installers who work with materials containing asbestos
- Pipefitters and plumbers who work with older, asbestos-lined pipes
Drywallers, electricians and maintenance workers may also be at risk depending on their work environments and exposure to asbestos-containing materials.
Learn the pros and cons of settling or fighting your workers’ comp case in court.
Are workers still being exposed to asbestos today?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while past asbestos exposure at work was more widespread, affecting an estimated 27 million workers in the U.S. from 1940 to 1979, the risk has decreased in recent years.
They estimate that approximately 6.3% of workers were exposed to higher than recommended asbestos levels between 1987 and 1994, while only about 4.3% of workers had similar high exposure levels between 2000 and 2003.
How long does it take to contract asbestosis?
The development of asbestosis is generally a slow process that occurs over many years, often several decades, of substantial asbestos exposure. The condition is dose-dependent, meaning the risk increases with the amount and duration of asbestos exposure. Short-term or minimal exposure is less likely to lead to asbestosis.
After initial exposure to asbestos, it can take anywhere from 10 to 40 years or even longer for the disease to manifest.
Is there a cure for asbestosis?
No, currently, there is no cure for asbestosis. The disease is progressive and irreversible, and its symptoms can worsen over time even after exposure to asbestos has stopped. Treatment for asbestosis primarily focuses on managing symptoms and improving the quality of life for the affected individual. Some common treatment options include:
- Oxygen therapy to assist with breathing difficulties
- Medications like bronchodilators to help open up the airways
- Pulmonary rehabilitation programs to improve lung function
- Regular monitoring and check-ups to assess the progression of the disease
In severe cases, a lung transplant may be considered, although this comes with its own set of risks and complications. Early diagnosis and management can help to slow down the progression of the disease and manage symptoms more effectively.
Can you get compensation for asbestosis?
Yes, if you’ve been diagnosed with asbestosis and the exposure occurred in the workplace, you are generally eligible for workers’ compensation.
In Arizona, most employers with even 1 employee are required by law to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees. To be eligible, you must be classified as an employee, not an independent contractor.
To secure workers’ comp benefits, you don’t have to prove employer negligence; you simply need to establish that the asbestosis is work-related. However, given the complexities surrounding the latency period of asbestosis, having an experienced work injury attorney can help you navigate the claims process more efficiently.
Learn how much compensation you can get for medical expenses and lost wages after a work injury.
How do you prove asbestosis?
Filing a workers’ compensation claim for asbestosis can be challenging since symptoms often don’t appear until decades after the initial exposure. Proving that asbestosis is work-related generally involves a combination of medical documentation and occupational history.
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of asbestosis caused by your job, here are some steps you might consider:
- Obtain a medical diagnosis. A comprehensive medical examination, which may include imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans and lung function tests, can confirm the presence of asbestosis.
- Document your work history. Documenting your employment history can help establish that you were in a job where you were likely to be exposed to asbestos. This could include your job description, length of employment and the conditions under which you worked.
- Gather witness testimonies. Statements from co-workers or supervisors can support your claim by confirming that asbestos was present in your workplace and that you were exposed to it as part of your job.
- Seek legal assistance. An experienced work injury attorney can help gather the necessary evidence and make a compelling case for you. They may also use experts to substantiate that your asbestosis is work-related.
It’s important to start this process as soon as you’re diagnosed, since there are time limitations for filing workers’ compensation claims.
Does workers’ compensation cover pain and suffering?
No, in most U.S. jurisdictions, including Arizona, workers’ compensation generally does not provide compensation for pain and suffering. The system is designed to provide benefits for financial expenses, but it doesn’t account for the emotional and psychological impact of an illness like asbestosis.
Workers’ comp typically covers medical expenses, a portion of lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, and death benefits for dependents in case of a fatal workplace injury or illness.
However, if your asbestosis was caused by a third party (for example, a manufacturer of asbestos products), you might be able to file a separate personal injury lawsuit against that entity, in which you could potentially seek damages for pain and suffering.
Can you sue for working around asbestos?
Workers’ compensation is typically the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries or illnesses, which means you usually can’t sue your employer directly for asbestos exposure or asbestosis. However, there are some exceptions where you might be able to take legal action:
- Deliberate or intentional harm. If your employer knowingly exposed you to asbestos without proper protection and with the intention of causing harm, you might have grounds for a lawsuit.
- Third-party claims. While you might not be able to sue your employer, you may be able to sue a third party responsible for your exposure, such as the manufacturer of the asbestos materials or a subcontractor responsible for asbestos removal.
- Workers’ comp failures. If your employer is not insured for workers’ compensation as they’re required to be, you may have the option to file a lawsuit against them.
- Violations of specific safety regulations. In some cases, egregious violations of federal or state safety regulations can open the door for legal action beyond workers’ compensation.
It’s crucial to consult with an experienced work injury attorney to explore all your options, as the laws can be complex and vary by jurisdiction.
Are there time limits for filing a workers’ comp claim in Arizona for asbestosis?
Yes, there are time limits for filing a workers’ comp claim in Arizona for asbestosis. Generally, you have 1 year from the date you discover the injury or illness or should have discovered it to file a claim.
However, asbestosis is a unique case because symptoms may not appear until many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Due to this long latency period, exceptions to the usual time limitations may apply, but you should contact a knowledgeable work injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure your right to compensation is protected.
Did you develop asbestosis from work? Get help from an experienced Arizona work injury attorney.
If you’re a worker in Phoenix who has been exposed to asbestos and is experiencing symptoms of asbestosis, don’t wait to get the help and compensation you deserve. At the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski, we specialize in helping employees like you navigate the complexities of these types of workers’ compensation claims.
With more than 45 years of experience, our firm is committed to ensuring you receive maximum compensation for your future medical expenses and other financial needs. Contact us today for your free consultation, and take the first step toward safeguarding your health and financial well-being.
Asbestos Toxicity: Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos? | Environmental Medicine | ATSDR. (2021, February 9). www.atsdr.cdc.gov. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asbestos/who_is_at_risk.html