Settlement Reached in Courthouse Asbestos Case

A class action asbestos-related suit in Jackson County, Missouri has resulted in an $80 million reward to establish a medical fund for countless individuals who were exposed to asbestos at the county courthouse there more than three decades ago, reports an article in the Kansas City Star.

Courthouse Asbestos CaseThe suit was brought by two former Jackson County Courthouse employees, alleging asbestos exposure during renovations at the facility back in 1983 and 1984.

The county and the Kansas City-based firm, U.S. Engineering, that was responsible for the debacle agreed to settle out of court rather than proceed to trial, which was scheduled to begin later this week.

According to the article, once attorney’s fees are subtracted from the settlement, the remainder – probably about $55 million – will go into a medical monitoring fund, likely the largest ever established in a Missouri asbestos case.

This fund will cover the costs of diagnostic tests for the next 30 years for those who were exposed to the asbestos during those extensive renovations so many years ago. All details of the settlement should be finalized by the end of the year.

As a result of the settlement, those who were exposed have nine months to submit their names to the court to determine whether or not they are eligible for coverage for medical screenings.

An estimated 7,500 people may have been affected by the negligence of the county and U.S. Engineering, notes the author of the article, and this includes not only courthouse employees but also jurors, attorneys, and inmates who were incarcerated at the county jail at that time.

One of the plaintiffs, Jeanne Morgan, testified at a hearing some two years ago that everything in her fifth floor office was coated with asbestos dust during the renovations.

She noted that toxic dust blew out of the air vents as a result of workmen sawing through pipes that contained asbestos. As the workers dragged the hazardous pipes through the building, more and more exposure resulted. At no time were courthouse employees warned of any risks and no precautions were taken.

Nancy Lopez, who worked with Morgan, was one of the first victims of this renovation disaster. She died in 2010 at the age of 56 as a result of mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure. Her family has already sued and were awarded a $10 million settlement from the defendants.

A Missouri Supreme Court ruling, passed in 2007, allows groups of individuals who were exposed to toxic substances like asbestos to be compensated for chest X-rays and other tests for several decades, even though – often – they exhibit no signs of illness.

The idea behind the ruling was that it would be costlier and potentially more deadly to wait until a disease like mesothelioma surfaces.

There was never any question, however, that U.S. Engineering behaved in a negligent manner. The company knew about the asbestos.

They had installed the very pipes they were removing some 30 years before the $2 million renovation project commenced. A former executive at the company even admitted under oath that workers did nothing to keep asbestos fibers from entering the air stream, hence exposing just about everyone in the building.