There are a variety of serious medical conditions that are considered types of industrial illnesses. One major example of an industrial illness is malignant mesothelioma. Some asbestos-related medical conditions commonly seen in Boston workers’ compensation cases include:
- Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma (MPM)
- Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma
- Malignant Pericardial Mesothelioma
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
- Lung cancer
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is made up of six silica elements. It has been mined and used by humans for thousands of years, but it was not until the Industrial Revolution in the United States and Western Europe that its use became so prevalent.
Asbestos has the remarkable ability to resist heat, fire, caustic chemicals, and electricity. It was often used as insulation material and fireproofing due to these properties, and it could be cheaply mined and manufactured into a variety of consumer and industrial products. It was later discovered that asbestos had the ability to act as a chemical bonding agent with extreme efficiency. Asbestos bonding agents were used in virtually every aspect of construction, including in glues and construction adhesives, binders in tiles, siding, and drywall panels, and many other construction materials.
When the fibers are inhaled or ingested, they can become trapped in a layer of tissue known as the mesothelium. This is where asbestos gets its name. Once the fibers are trapped there, they can metastasize into the deadly form of cancer known as malignant mesothelioma.
According to the American Cancer Society, if the mesothelioma forms in the lungs, it is called malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM). Pleural refers to the membranes that line the lungs. If the cancer forms in the chest cavity, it is known as malignant pericardial mesothelioma, and if it forms in the abdomen, it is known as malignant peritoneal mesothelioma. Once it forms in any one of these areas, it can quickly spread to any other part of the body, as it often does.
For years, the general public had no idea about the dangers of asbestos, while the companies that manufactured it were well aware. They were able to get away with it for so long due to the fact that it takes between 20 and 50 years for most people to develop noticeable symptoms, such as chest pain, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath. Once a victim develops these obvious symptoms and goes to see a doctor, he or she is often told they only have a very short time left to live. Asbestos producers and many employers were willing to risk the lives of these workers because they knew it would be a very long time before anyone knew they were sick.
Other diseases that occupational asbestos exposure can cause include pleural plaques and asbestosis. Asbestosis involves a scarring to the lining of the lungs caused by the sharp asbestos fibers. There is no way for the body to remove these fibers, and there is nothing doctors can do other than removing the tissue itself, which they won’t typically do to an otherwise healthy person. These sharp fibers will cause tears in the linings of the lungs, and this will eventually lead to the formation of scar tissue. Once this occurs, an employee will suffer symptoms of asbestosis similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which we often associate with smoking. This condition can cause someone to be unable to work, depending on the severity of the case.
Asbestos can also cause pleural plaques to form, as well as other serious health conditions, especially to the upper respiratory system. Asbestos can also cause an employee to develop the type of lung cancer we typically associate with smoking, but this type of cancer is quite distinct from mesothelioma.
If an employee is unable to do the same job he or she had before becoming diagnosed with asbestosis, he or she may be eligible for partial incapacity benefits pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152 Section 35. Under this section, workers’ compensation benefits are calculated by taking a workers’ average weekly wage (AWW) prior to becoming injured and subtracting the workers’ current average weekly wage following an asbestosis diagnosis. That figure will then have an additional 40 percent subtracted in order to calculate the amount the employee receives.
If an employee cannot do any work as a result of the workplace injury, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 152, Section 34 provides that the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company shall pay an employee 60 percent of his or her average weekly wage. In this case, there is no need to look at the employee’s post-accident salary, because he or she is not working at this time.
Workers’ compensation in Massachusetts is considered a single-recovery system. What this means is that if a worker is eligible to collect Boston workers’ compensation benefits, then they will not also be able to file a civil personal injury lawsuit against their employer. The test to determine whether the single-recovery system applies is to see whether the employee was eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits within the meaning of the workers’ compensation act.
There is an exception to the single-recovery system when the negligence of a third party caused the employee’s injuries. A third party must be someone that does not work for the same employer as the employee, and also cannot be the employer itself. In most asbestos cases, an employee is exposed to toxic asbestos fibers that were mined and manufactured by a company other than the employee’s employer. As a result, most employees can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and then also file a negligence lawsuit against the third-party manufacturer. If the employee won the third-party case through a verdict at trial or a settlement, the employee would have to reimburse the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company for any money that had already been paid in the form of workers’ compensation benefits. This is done in order to prevent what is known as a double recovery or “double dipping” in Boston workers’ compensation cases. An employee should speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to review the employee’s actual situation and consider their options for a mesothelioma lawsuit.