The Facts about Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma, also referred to as malignant mesothelioma, is a deadly and rare cancer that is highly aggressive and is resistant to many current treatments. Each year approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed.
Most mesotheliomas are workplace-related. It is easy to assume that workers are protected. But that’s not always the case. In South Carolina between 1999 and 2013, asbestos exposure caused more than 600 deaths. Of those deaths, 470 were from mesothelioma. The three counties in SC with the highest asbestos-related mortality rates are Charleston County, Spartanburg County and Berkeley County.
Nationally between 1999 and 2013, over 37,000 died from mesothelioma.
What Causes the Disease?
Mesotheliomas, along with lung cancer, asbestosis and certain other respiratory illnesses, have all been linked to asbestos exposure. Usually, it’s from breathing air contaminated with microscopic asbestos fibers, often in workplaces where asbestos was manufactured or used as building material.
Mesothelioma patients are faced with months of grueling medical treatments, an overwhelming financial burden, and the sad reality of fairly rapid demise. Currently there is no known cure for mesothelioma, and the median survival time after diagnosis varies from 12 to 21 months, depending on the stage of the cancer (I, II, III, or IV). The primary treatments available include radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, although none of these have proven effective at eradicating the cancer.
Types of Mesothelioma
The mesothelium is a lining of specialized cells inside the chest (pleura), the abdomen (peritoneum), around the heart (pericardium), and, if male, the testicles (tunica vaginalis). Cancer of any of these mesothelia is called mesothelioma.
There are four areas in which a malignant mesothelioma can begin, with the type of mesothelioma named for the organ in which the cancer originates.
- Pleural mesothelioma begins in the chest cavity, with the metastases moving to any organ, including the lungs and brain. About three in four mesotheliomas are pleural.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma penetrates the abdominal cavity and typically spreads to the liver, spleen or bowel. Most of the remaining cases of mesothelioma are peritoneal.
- Pericardial mesothelioma affects the pericardium, the double-walled sac that contains the heart. It is very rare.
- Tunica vaginalis mesotheliomas start in the covering layer of the testicles. It is also quite rare.
Symptoms of mesothelioma are varied and oftentimes resemble the flu. Depending on where the cancer is located, the symptoms will be slightly different. The primary symptoms which can present themselves from 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent cough
- Pain under the rib cage
- Pain in the abdomen
- Fluid or swelling in the abdomen
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Trouble swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Excessive sweating.
Once mesothelioma is diagnosed it is “staged” according to the size and location of the tumor. The stages range from stage I, where the cancer is localized and has not yet spread beyond the affected organ, to stage 4, where the cancer has spread into other organs and is at an advanced stage.
South Carolina Workplace Risks of Asbestos Exposure
By and large, the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is now prohibited, although exceptions exist. But in the past, before asbestos was discovered to be a powerful carcinogen, its stellar fire-resistant qualities made asbestos extremely popular in industries where fires were a dangerous likelihood.
Certain fields of work were more likely to use asbestos and therefore have workers who developed mesothelioma. The shipbuilding industry was one, and in South Carolina it was centered mostly in the Charleston area. Navy veterans can be vulnerable to the disease as well because of the Charleston Naval Shipyard. Anyone who works with or around ships may still be at risk.
The building of power plants also exposed a lot of workers to asbestos and the risk of mesothelioma. Many times the asbestos was applied in spray form. In addition, gaskets used to seal valves, pumps, and pipe fittings were also made from materials that contained asbestos. Often the gaskets needed to be cut and filed to get a proper fit, creating a dust that the workers would inhale. Workers at power plants need to be wary when doing their job in older areas of plants, especially if they are repairing something electrical.
Other businesses in South Carolina that have exposed workers to asbestos include chemical plants, mills, and the vermiculite mines. Vermiculite ore, which contains trace amounts of asbestos, is still mined in Enoree.
The Mesothelioma Lawsuit Process
A typical mesothelioma lawsuit passes through the following stages:
- Your attorney will gather relevant information needed for the case.
- Your attorney will file a written complaint to begin the legal process.
- Defendants will have a set period of time, often 30 days, to respond to your claim. It is common for them to deny responsibility.
- Lawyers on both sides will gather information related to the allegations. This step can take several months and usually requires you to take part in a recorded deposition, where you will be asked questions.
- The defendant will often offer compensation before the trial starts. Your attorney will negotiate for you.
If you do not take the settlement, the next step is the trial. If you win, the defendant can still appeal the decision. Unfortunately, appeals delay the monetary award, although the defendant will be required to post the amount owed you while the appeal proceeds. If the appeal fails, you receive your payment.
What to Expect During Your Case
You should be prepared for the defendant to deny that they are in any way responsible for your illness. They may try to exonerate themselves of all fault by suggesting that:
- Your own habits (smoking, drinking, etc.) caused your health problems.
- Your family history shows similar health problems.
- You worked at another place where asbestos exposure was a known problem.
- You were exposed to asbestos in your own home, not just at work.
- You were not properly diagnosed.
- Your medical problems are not because of asbestos exposure.
Additionally, the defendant may try to prove that the petition was not filed correctly or on time, or may challenge your authority to file a suit on behalf of the deceased.
The legal process can be lengthy, taking months or even years, as the defendant will likely try to drag things out. If you are in poor health, sometimes the process can be expedited. Travel on the part of the plaintiff is usually, mercifully, limited. If the plaintiff in a mesothelioma case dies before the case is resolved, loved ones may be able to take over. In some cases, they can file wrongful death suits.
Most cases are settled before they go to court.
When life goes wrong, we fight for what’s right.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis, you may be entitled to financial compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, physical disability, and emotional pain and suffering. If you are considering an asbestos-related lawsuit, it is important to talk with an attorney with significant experience in South Carolina workplace injury law. The Louthian Law Firm has been trying — and winning — lawsuits in South Carolina since 1959. We’re committed to providing excellent, personalized service and the best results for our clients. To speak with an experienced mesothelioma attorney today, call us at 1-888-440-3211, or fill out our confidential online form for a free initial consultation. The Louthian Law Firm. Seeking truth. Securing justice.