Folta v. Ferro Engineering, an appeal from the Supreme Court of Illinois, involved a plaintiff who worked from 1966 to 1970 as product tester and shipping clerk for defendant. During the few years he worked for defendant, he was exposed to asbestos on a regular basis, according to the record of the case.
Asbestos fibers are very toxic to humans. Once they are inhaled, they can become trapped in a layer of tissue known as the mesothelium, where they can metastasize into a deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma. That can occur in the lungs, chest cavity, abdomen, and other organs, and it can quickly spread to other parts of the body. However, it normally takes between 20 and 50 years for victims to develop noticeable symptoms of mesothelioma, and by the time they are first diagnosed, they are often informed they only have a very short period of time left to live.
In Folta, plaintiff was diagnosed with mesothelioma 41 years after last being exposed to the deadly substance. The month after he was diagnosed, he filed a civil lawsuit against employer and 14 other companies, as he determined them to all be responsible for his asbestos exposure and resulting mesothelioma. The other companies named in the civil asbestos lawsuit were the manufacturers of the many asbestos-laden products he handled while employed as a shipping clerk for defendant.
After being served with the lawsuit, defendant moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that, since he was an employee at the time of his exposure to asbestos, workers’ compensation was the appropriate remedy and not filing a civil lawsuit.
Generally, if a worker is injured on the job or suffers an illness caused by his or her working environment, the employee must file a workers’ compensation claim instead of filing a civil lawsuit. This is known as the exclusive remedy provision of workers’ compensation.
In response to this motion to dismiss, plaintiff argued that his injuries were not compensable under the workers’ compensation systems, because they involved asbestos exposure and a mesothelioma injury lawsuit. After filing his motion, plaintiff died from mesothelioma, and his wife stepped in on behalf of the estate as his successor in interest. Unfortunately, this is very common in mesothelioma cases, due to how fast the cancer can kill its victims.
The trial court agreed with defendant that this was a workers’ compensation matter with respect to his employer and granted the motion to dismiss the complaint against employer. Plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court.
On appeal, the court looked at whether asbestos injuries including mesothelioma were within the scope of the state workers’ compensation coverage and ultimately decided that they were. However, this does mean that plaintiff did have valid claims against third parties such as the manufacturers of the deadly products named as the other 13 defendants in this mesothelioma lawsuit. These cases are highly complicated, and you should speak with an experienced mesothelioma injury lawyer in Boston about the facts of your particular case as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Massachusetts, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.
Folta v. Ferro Engineering, November 4, 2015, Supreme Court of IllinoisLaw Review
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Asbestos In City Buildings Poses Risk, August 12, 2014, Boston Mesothelioma Layers Blog