Over 50 Years After Employee’s Exposure Former Employers Absolved in Asbestos Case

Last week marked the conclusion of a complex legal battle revolving around who was to blame for the death of a British man due to his occupational asbestos exposure that occurred over 50 years ago. When the case began, the three surviving partners of the Robert, Mather, Johnson, Marshall & Partners (RMJM) architectural firm were all named as defendants. Their fifteen-month fight for absolution allows a brief glimpse at the financial and legal ramifications that come with being named as a defendant in occupational asbestos exposure suits.

The Case Against RMJM

On February 2013, three of the last remaining partners of RMJM were served with writs from the Edinburgh Court of Sessions. Currently in their nineties, the men were shocked to discover that they were being named as defendants in a 1 million euro asbestos exposure court case for the death of John Miller, a former building worker who died in 2009 from mesothelioma. During the 1960s, Miller had been an RMJM employee and the complaint alleged the Miller had been negligently exposed to asbestos while doing work for the RMJM architecture firm. It took fifteen months and lots of attorney fees before the elderly partners of RMJM were finally able to be dismissed from the case. Their lawyers were able prove that Miller’s exposure to asbestos while working for RMJM had been negligible, and not due to negligence by RMJM. The remainder of the case was settled out of court with the company that employed Miller before he began working for RMJM.

Past Employers As Defendants in Occupational Asbestos Exposure Cases

Asbestos exposure is an extremely slow killer. Symptoms can take years and even decades to  manifest. Even then people can go on for years treating symptoms commonly arising out of  exposure without realizing that asbestos exposure is the root cause of many of their ailments. Once a person receives the diagnosis that asbestos exposure was the cause of their persistent health issues, the person’s battle is further complicated. This is because it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where exposure occurred. With Miller it was easier to narrow down the potential culprits to past employers because he had spent his life working with and around building and construction materials, the most common culprits for asbestos-containing fibers.

The doctor fees for treating illnesses caused by occupational asbestos exposure can be astronomical, and many try to look to past employers to help shoulder some of this financial load.  However, determining simply that exposure was occupational in nature is not enough to bring a case. The next step is to determine at what stage of one’s career that exposure occurred. Making such a determination can be extremely complicated unless a person worked at the same place for their entire life. In reality they may have a huge pool of employers who could all in theory be the party responsible for their occupational asbestos exposure.

As a result, attorneys typically advise client’s filing wrongful asbestos exposure claims to name all past employers, no matter how long ago in order to cover all bases. This tactic seems to be the reason behind RMJM being named in the Miller suit. This raises an interesting issue about asbestos exposure litigation. Such suits could financially cripple a person who was not at all responsible for the exposure, and who was simply trying to prove this fact in court. In an press release they put out after being removed as defendants, the RMJM men stressed how nerve-wracking and time-consuming the past 15 months had been for them while they were trying to prove their innocence.

Exposure had occurred over 50 years ago, but today the men are nowhere near as virile and healthy as they had once been when the founded RMJM. Instead these elderly men spent some of the last years of their life embroiled in a legal battle that could have required them to pay a large amount in damages. Furthermore, if RMJM had been found guilty the men could have been found liable for even more money because they did not have Employers Liability Insurance at the time exposure occurred. Such protection was not mandatorily required until the 1970s, a decade after the exposure was alleged to have occurred.

All of these concerns and more illustrate the difficulties facing named defendants in occupational asbestos exposure cases. Even if you are not guilty of negligence or other related asbestos crimes, the time and money spent proving your innocence could take a very big toll. You should contact an asbestos exposure attorney today if you are looking for representation in an occupational asbestos exposure suit.

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