Most asbestos exposure in the past (and to some degree, today) occurred on the job. Asbestos was commonly used in building and insulation materials as a fireproofing material. It is a natural mineral that was supremely effective as a fire-resister, but it also happens to be toxic to the human body. Asbestos can cause the development of numerous diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, and others.
Mesothelioma is often singled out because it is one of the few malignant asbestos-related diseases whose only real known cause is exposure to asbestos. Many people who develop mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos while working.
In recent years, mesothelioma workers’ compensation claims have become an option to receive compensation.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Injuries at work are not uncommon. Even in the modern day world with its fair share of workplace regulations, there is no escaping workplace injuries. Before the 1920s, if an individual was injured or incurred an illness on the job, their only recourse for accruing compensation was to file a lawsuit against their employer. This process, however, was often arduous and there was no guarantee that employees could prove that their employers were liable for their injuries.
When it became clear that lawsuits at the time were not an effective means for obtaining compensatory benefits, the federal government mandated that companies purchase workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance would be used to pay out claims for damages incurred while on the job, a process that would come to be known as workers’ compensation. Employers can either purchase insurance policies from private companies, or they can get insurance from a state fund.
Each state governs and regulates its own workers’ compensation laws. They all operate claims systems that allow workers to file claims and ultimately receive awards if they are approved. The federal government also has a workers’ compensation division that is handled by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, an agency under the United States Department of Labor.
Workers’ compensation laws originally helped workers bypass the lengthy and sometimes unsuccessful process of a lawsuit to receive remuneration directly from their employer’s insurance provider.
These laws also protected employers from having to deal with payouts associated with much costlier lawsuits. Workers’ compensation benefits are typically fixed, meaning that each injury or illness that is covered pays out basically the same amount for everyone.
Still, awards provided by a successful asbestos workers’ compensation claim can provide:
- Recovery of lost wages (in the past, present, and future)
- Help with paying medical bills
- Help with paying everyday expenses
- Assistance in finding work elsewhere, if applicable
Workers’ compensation programs are not designed to assign liability to any person or organization. They are simply an acknowledgment that an injury or illness occurred at work. If you file a successful claim, then you will not be legally permitted to file a lawsuit against your employer after the fact. Lawsuits can assign liability to companies, especially if it is shown that they used asbestos negligently.
If a mesothelioma workers’ compensation claim is approved, claimants will be paid either in installments or in one lump sum. Again, there are maximum amounts of workers’ compensation benefits for mesothelioma that you are legally allowed to receive (in most cases).
Filing for Mesothelioma Workers’ Compensation Benefits
If you are considering filing a mesothelioma workers’ compensation claim, it may be helpful to contact a mesothelioma lawyer or legal team. One of the first things you’ll have to do before filing a claim is compiling evidence. A legal team that has experience with mesothelioma and asbestos-related cases will obviously be able to provide more expertise about what evidence you should provide.
In general, you will need to provide documentation such as:
- Proof of medical diagnosis (usually a physician’s statement)
- Verification that asbestos exposure occurred on the job
- Information about the amount of time you worked for the employer and how often you were exposed to asbestos
- Details about any protective clothing or gear that was provided by the employer
After you have compiled all appropriate evidence and filled out any requisite paperwork, you will then submit the claim. The claim and all its evidence will be reviewed by the state board that governs workers’ compensation programs. Again, every state has different regulations, requirements, and processes for their workers’ compensation claims.
Each state also has its own statute of limitations for when claims can be made. Usually, the statute of limitations starts at the time of a medical diagnosis. So, whenever you are diagnosed, you will have a certain amount of time to file a claim. In general, the average amount of time you will have is about 2 years, although some states have statutes that only leave you one year to file.
Some states, like Missouri, have special stipulations for individuals who were exposed to toxins like asbestos at work. These allow for claims to be processed in a timelier manner so that claimants can receive their much-needed compensation faster.
Additionally, it should be noted that surviving family members of an individual who passed away from mesothelioma as a result of occupational asbestos exposure can also file a workers’ compensation claim. Again, each state handles these claims differently, and the statute of limitations may differ from standard claims.
Receiving Payment from Workers’ Compensation Programs
After the state governing board has reviewed your claim, it will make a decision about whether to approve it and how much money to pay out. If your claim is approved, that information will be delivered to your employer’s insurance provider. The insurer is responsible for making your payment. Again, each state has maximum allowable benefit amounts for certain injuries and illnesses. So, if the governing board approves your claim to the fullest extent, you will know exactly how much you can expect to receive.
In some cases, mesothelioma workers’ compensation benefits have taken years to be paid out to approved claimants. The state of Montana set up an insurance fund that, at one time, was responsible for paying out all workers’ compensation claims in the state. This, unfortunately, kept hundreds of claims open, particularly from individuals who had been exposed to asbestos in vermiculite mines in Libby, Montana.
Montana now has two separate funds (the “Old State Fund” for claims that were filed prior to July 1990 and a newer “Montana State Fund”). Legislators are obviously trying to expedite this process, and they are also allowing for more private workers’ compensation insurers to cover businesses in the state.
Missouri is an example of a state that has prioritized mesothelioma sufferers and other individuals with asbestos-related illnesses. The Missouri Mesothelioma Risk Management Fund was recently set up to allow mesothelioma victims who were exposed to asbestos on the job to receive up to $500,000 in compensation. Employers are required to either pay into that fund or acknowledge liability through their existing insurer.
In either case, mesothelioma sufferers in Missouri may receive much larger workers’ compensation benefits than residents of other states.
Which Employees are Most At Risk?
Occupational asbestos exposure was, at one time, a much more prevalent issue. Between the early 20th century and the 1970s, asbestos was used in products and building materials of all varieties. It was probably easier to identify who wasn’t at risk for exposure than who was, as the substance could be found in virtually every walk of life. Of course, workers were often most susceptible because asbestos was used in occupational settings more frequently.
In general, jobs that made employees most vulnerable included:
- Construction workers
- Power plant workers
- Industrial plant workers
- Shipyard workers
Construction workers often had to deal with asbestos building materials in their jobs. Insulation was a major hazard because it was often packed full of asbestos to mitigate potential fires. But, asbestos could also be found in as many as 4,000 different products and materials that construction workers routinely worked with.
Some of those products included:
- Insulation for electrical wiring
- Caulking materials
- Roofing shingles, tiles, and other materials
- Flooring tiles (particularly ones made of vinyl)
In this day and age, regulations have limited the amount of acceptable asbestos exposure on construction job sites. Companies are also legally required to engage in asbestos abatement procedures before renovating or demolishing any building. Because of the prevalent use of asbestos products in the 20th century, it is not uncommon to find asbestos in buildings today. An estimated 1.3 million construction workers in the United States are still exposed to asbestos annually. One study also showed that, between 1999 and 2012, construction workers accounted for 15% of all mesothelioma diagnoses.
Power and industrial plant workers also faced issues with asbestos exposure. Much of the machinery in those facilities was at one time insulated with asbestos products to, again, protect from fires and keep temperatures down. Many employees were often given asbestos-laden protective gear and clothing, as well. Naturally, this led to widespread asbestos exposure.
Many activities in power and industrial plants also released airborne asbestos fibers into the air, including:
- Extracting metal from ores
- Copper and steel smelting
Because these facilities were often poorly ventilated, the concentrations of asbestos in the air were dangerously high. Asbestos fibers could also stay airborne for hours at a time. Again, regulations have curbed asbestos’ presence in many of these facilities. Employers now use much safer alternatives to asbestos to keep equipment cool and avoid fires.
Shipyards and ships also posed a risk for occupational asbestos exposure. Engine rooms and boiler rooms were particularly dangerous for workers because of the high quantities of asbestos and the lack of ventilation. Ships, in general, were packed with asbestos, and many of the walls were sprayed with an asbestos coating to mitigate both fires and corrosion.
Firefighters also continue to face the threat of asbestos exposure. Although the goal of asbestos was to prevent fires, the substance cannot stop them altogether. Charred asbestos fibers at the scene of a fire are particularly toxic. Because many older buildings still contain asbestos materials, fires can release a wave of toxic asbestos fibers into the air. While new protective gear and respiratory masks have made a firefighter’s job safer, it cannot completely eliminate the possibility of asbestos exposure.
Other Forms of Mesothelioma Compensation
While workers’ compensation can provide some remuneration, many mesothelioma patients will require more in order to pay for medical bills and other costs. An aggressive treatment regimen for mesothelioma patients can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars or even into the millions. It is not an easy proposition, to say the least. There are other forms of compensation that mesothelioma sufferers may seek out, however.
Litigation against asbestos product manufacturers is common. Mesothelioma victims can file lawsuits against these companies for the negligent use of asbestos. Many asbestos lawsuits end in settlements with payouts ranging from $1 million to $1.3 million on average. If a case goes to trial and the jury or judge decides in favor of the plaintiff, the median payout is around $2.5 million. You can file a lawsuit against an employer, but you forfeit that right if you have already won a successful workers’ compensation claim against that employer.
Some asbestos product manufacturers were forced to go into bankruptcy due to the volume of asbestos lawsuits filed against them. In order to provide proper compensation, these companies often set up asbestos trust funds that mesothelioma victims can make claims against. Trusts only pay out a portion of an initial claim amount because they need to ensure that they have enough assets to compensate future claimants, as well. But, because these companies have already admitted liability, it is easier and often faster to retrieve compensation.
Former service members account for about 30% of all mesothelioma patients. Veterans were at high risk for asbestos exposure because it was used in bases, vehicles, ships, aircraft, and in occupational settings. Because of this, the VA has set up a claims department through which veterans can receive compensation.
Obviously, all of these forms of compensation require evidence and complex documentation. Contacting a mesothelioma attorney can certainly help the process run more smoothly.