An Illinois-based trial of a Michigan teacher who claims he was exposed to deadly asbestos while teaching automobile technology at several schools is underway, and chances are many other “auto shop” teachers who’ve become sickened by asbestos are keeping an eye on the outcome.
The trial began last week in the case of Stanley Urban, who not only taught auto tech but was also employed at numerous auto dealership service centers in his home state of Michigan.
His suit is being filed against Hennessy Industries, manufacturer of AMMCO brake grinders. He alleges the grinders were responsible for the exposure.
It’s a difficult call in this instance, as Hennessy’s grinders (or lathes, as they are officially called) do not actually contain asbestos. Rather, they prompt the production of asbestos dust when used on brakes that DO contain asbestos. Here, say attorneys, is where the problem lies.
Attorney for Hennessy Industries, Bob Rich, presented the results of tests showing the asbestos dust produced by the brake grinders in question met all OSHA standards and safety measures.
He said that as OSHA learned more about the dangers of asbestos and as they imposed new rules, AMMCO (Hennessy’s predecessor) updated its products and warnings in accordance with the knowledge available at that time.
He argued that the plaintiff shouldn’t expect AMMCO to have known more than the leading researchers of some 40 years ago, when most of the exposure occurred.
However, Dr. Howard Frank of the Drexel University (Philadelphia) School of Medicine argued that exposure to asbestos while grinding brakes was a “substantial contributing factor” to Mr. Urban’s mesothelioma. He added that people could indeed develop mesothelioma from working with brake grinders.
In return, Rich argued that Urban did not make proper use of the dust bags attached to the brake grinders. Specifically, he only emptied them once or twice a year when he should have been emptying them much more often, Rich pointed out. As a result, Urban’s dust exposure increased.
Still, the plaintiff is facing medical bills for his treatment that amount to about $800,000, attorneys said. Furthermore, they calculate his lost income at about $600,000. Urban’s lawyer, however, is seeking a lot more, namely $8.5 million in compensatory damages.
Hennessy is determined not to pay.
Physically, Mr. Urban has been one of the lucky ones. His disease was diagnosed in early 2013, and thanks to chemotherapy and other treatments that have slowed the progression of his cancer, he’s still alive today.
He and his wife have been present at the trial, which will likely continue for at least another week.
Auto mechanics are high on the list of tradespersons that are likely to develop mesothelioma, especially those who’ve worked in the industry for many years and prior to the time when asbestos was no longer used in U.S.-produced brakes and clutches.
However, even today, mechanics may potentially encounter foreign-made auto parts that contain asbestos, so they should always be prepared to wear protective gear when completing tasks such as brake grinding.