Written By Lauren Nikulicz, Expert Legal Writer for King Law Offices in Greenville, SC
Brave sailors who worked on Navy ships throughout World War II and the Korean War are still holding onto bits of the past, through no fault of their own. They had no idea that one of the biggest risks during the war would be their constant exposure to asbestos, which can lead to mesothelioma. Today, maritime law issues are popping up across the country, and courts are trying to decide who and what should be held accountable.
Asbestos is a mineral whose fibers can be used to weave cloth. It has been around for centuries and is most commonly used in insulation — it’s great against heat, electricity and sound, on top of being fireproof and chemically inert. Starting in World War II and continuing into the 1970′s, asbestos was used in more than 3,000 products. In the shipyards, asbestos insulation was used to cover almost all of the wiring as well as being used in boiler rooms and over pipe fittings.
Navy veterans have memories of having to haul out the old asbestos installation and replace it when they were in port. The ship was often filled with clouds of asbestos after the firing of large shipboard guns. Asbestos dust was just seen as a part of a Navy man’s life. Years later, many of these men have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. And they are not the only ones. Their wives, who washed their husbands clothes and were unfortunate enough to inhale the asbestos dust clinging to them, have also contracted this cancer.
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare form of cancer that affects the protective lining covering many internal organs. The most common area for mesothelioma to affect is the pleura, which is the outer lining surrounding the lungs and the internal chest wall. Generally the first symptom noticed will be shortness of breath after exercising. This difficulty in breathing will continue to worsen until it becomes hard to breathe even while resting. This is often accompanied by strong chest pains. If the disease is detected early, the tumor and the tissue around it can be removed, sometimes eliminating the problem from reoccurring. If the cancer has already metastasized, surgery will need to be followed by chemotherapy and radiation, in an attempt to quell the cancer’s growth. At this time, mesothelioma knows no cure.
Lawsuits are emerging with the fallout associated over asbestos use in previous decades. Although health issues were known, and there was a strong suspicion of asbestos causing cancer, the government didn’t even begin to try reducing it’s heavy use until the 1970′s. Courts are trying to decide who is responsible for these issues. Some are trying to pin some blame on Navy shipbuilders, who were just trying to assemble ships with the plans and materials provided. It has now been decided that a Navy ship is not a “product” and so cannot really be held to product liability laws. Now the responsibility is being passed onto the user or the buyer, and courts are trying to decide who will be held responsible.