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The dangers of asbestos exposure: determining if you have a claim

Posted June 29, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

Due to regulations, asbestos exposure is far less common than it used to be, but that doesn't mean it's been wholly eradicated, and it can still lurk in unlikely places. (ArjanL/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Martin & Jones.

You've probably seen an iteration of a commercial on TV: "Have you or a loved one suffered from mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure? You may be entitled to compensation." The reality is asbestos disease claims are not easy and usually require an experienced local attorney with knowledge about asbestos use and exposure.

According to Mike Riley, an attorney at the Raleigh-based law firm Martin & Jones who focuses on asbestos-related diseases, asbestos exposure can be like a "ticking time bomb." When it comes to the odds of developing a condition like mesothelioma, it is largely dependent on the amount of asbestos exposure that an individual has had, and the type of asbestos fiber or product to which the person was exposed.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that forms from a thin layer of tissue that covers many internal organs. The most common affected area is the lungs.

"While there is no safe level of exposure, that does not mean that every exposure will lead to disease," said Riley, who has been working with victims of asbestos exposure for more than 25 years. "But if you have exposure, the latency aspect of it means you may not get sick from it today, tomorrow, next week or even next year. It could be decades after your exposure."

As far as asbestos-related risks go, Riley and his colleagues most commonly deal with mesothelioma and other lung cancers, but have also seen gastrointestinal tract cancers, esophageal cancers and throat cancers as a result of exposure.

It is true that asbestos isn't as common as it was 50 years ago. For several decades — from the 1940s to the 1970s, mainly — many people were exposed to asbestos in shipyards, manufacturing facilities and chemical plants. Symptoms of disease didn't arise for a decade or two, so comprehensive asbestos regulations weren't imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the EPA until the late '70s and '80s.

Due to these regulations, asbestos exposure is far less common than it used to be, but that doesn't mean it's been wholly eradicated, and it can still lurk in unlikely places. That is why it is so crucial for attorneys like Riley to understand exactly where and how a person may have been exposed.

"We look at a person's history — not just their work history. Did they change brakes on their own cars, did they do a home renovation? Those activities could involve asbestos exposure. Even things like Johnson & Johnson baby powder and cosmetic products," Riley said, listing off a number of common exposures. "Products containing talc are often laced with small amounts of asbestos."

When it comes to asbestos exposure litigation, Martin & Jones specifically represents clients who are making a claim against either asbestos product manufacturers or contractors who installed the products. Sometimes, they're also able to bring forward claims against the employer directly if exposure happened in the workplace.

Knowing if a case has legs to stand on is fairly cut-and-dry. If there is a medical diagnosis, then a client has a promising shot at compensation. For those who think they may be suffering from an asbestos-related illness, common symptoms include shortness of breath, frequent dry coughing, a loss of appetite and sudden weight loss, and tightness or pain in the chest.

"If you go into a doctor's office with these problems and are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a knowledgeable physician should ask if and when you were exposed to asbestos," Riley explained. “We often have doctors suggest that their patients call us after such a diagnosis.”

Once a diagnosis has been established, an attorney will investigate to determine when an individual may have been exposed and who the responsible party could be. Those diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness will likely have an abundance of medical costs, not to mention money lost from an inability to work.

Legal fees can add an extra layer of stress to an already trying situation, but some law firms work on a contingency fee basis. In other words, no one pays up front for services, and if the claim doesn't yield recovery, no payment is required.

Next time you are watching television and a mesothelioma commercial comes on, think twice about picking up the phone. Oftentimes, working with a local attorney gives a claim an edge that national law firms cannot provide.

"We know the local lay of the land. We know these job sites" Riley explained. "When people call us, and they have cancer from asbestos, and they tell me where they worked, I have likely already represented somebody from that plant. Sometimes I can even name their coworkers."

"It's also just nice to have somebody here in North Carolina, right down the road," Riley added. "When we meet with a client, generally we drive to their house and meet with them. We don't ever require them to come to the office, because it is about not inconveniencing them. You've got to live your life and enjoy it. We are not here to interfere any more than absolutely necessary."

While an asbestos-related diagnosis and the medical treatment a client is facing can certainly be emotionally distressing, the potential for significant monetary compensation can help alleviate some of the distress.

"We are very conscious about putting our clients at ease. We do this every day," Riley said. "We try to minimize the amount they think about the case. That's why they hire us. We want to take away as much worry as we can!"

This article was written for our sponsor, Martin & Jones.

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