Asbestos Disease and Cancer
One of all the practice areas we are the most proud of at Wallace & Graham, our successful asbestos and occupational disease practice ranks at the top.
Mona Lisa Wallace was one of the first asbestos lawyers in the Southeast and has been involved in handling asbestos cases since 1981. Partner Bill Graham has dedicated nearly his entire legal career to assisting individuals and families who suffer from asbestos-related diseases and cancers.
Our firm has entire departments (asbestos medical department, asbestos third-party settlement department, asbestos workers’ compensation disease department, Medicare reimbursement department) that have years of experience and knowledge related to asbestos-related work exposures, diseases, cancers; to understanding the dangerous products and companies that caused them; and to knowing how to effectively get these claims litigated and/or settled.
In civil lawsuits, we have successfully represented thousands of employees to obtain their just legal benefits. Our firm has tried hundreds of asbestos cases in various courts and has had a significant hand in shaping North Carolina workers’ compensation case law. Recently, Bill Graham and co-counsel obtained the largest N.C. asbestos wrongful death verdict believed obtained to date, $32.7 million dollars for compensatory only damages, on behalf of our client who died from the tragic asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma.
We attribute much of our success to our firm’s commitment over the years of documenting exposures and obtaining records which have been categorized and stored from a variety of locations, facilities, and workers who have worked as far back as the early 1940s. Our clients are referred to us most often by their co-workers who have been pleased with our representation. We consider a word-of-mouth referral from a pleased former client to be our greatest compliment.
If you feel you have developed a disease or illness as the result of being exposed to a product that contains asbestos, it is important to contact professionals that have experience dealing with asbestos-related illnesses. At Wallace & Graham, P.A., our attorneys have handled hundreds, if not thousands, of asbestos claims before the North Carolina Industrial Commission. These include claims for asbestosis and death claims due to asbestos-related cancer.
This information is not intended to diagnose or give medical advice. Please consult with a medical professional to discuss any health concerns you may have.
How long has Wallace & Graham been representing asbestos victims?
Mona Lisa began the asbestos practice representing asbestos insulators and plant workers. Up until the mid-1970s (and sometime even thereafter), insulators had day in and day out exposure to asbestos while installing asbestos insulation on pipes, tanks, valves, vessels, boilers, turbines, and the like.
Up through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, few insulators had any restrictions applied to them concerning the removal of old asbestos insulation. As a result, insulators would frequently go into a plant for repair work and remove miles of asbestos insulation.
Working adjacent to the asbestos insulators were the carpenters, electricians, painters, riggers, and others. As the practice evolved, so did the number of workers who came to Mona Lisa for her help. In 1993, Bill joined the practice and they have represented tens of thousands of asbestos-exposed individuals exposed working in numerous occupations and facilities. Because of the latency period for asbestos (i.e. the time from when the exposure occurs until the disease manifests) is from 10 years to 50 years or more, often our clients develop two diseases at different intervals in time. Initially, the clients develop asbestosis, an interstitial scarring of the lung, and subsequent as late as years later, are diagnosed with one or more asbestos related cancers, the most fatal of which is mesothelioma. Family members have also been sadly diagnosed from household diseases. W&G works hard to educate our clients about the need for medical monitoring and early detection of diseases.
A leading case involving household exposure in the U.S. is Satterfield vs. Alcoa, in which Mona Lisa and co-counsel Greg Coleman represented the young daughter of an Alcoa boiler worker who was diagnosed at age 22 with mesothelioma. Tennessee’s highest court in that case defined and broadened the civil remedies available to families whose loved ones are unknowingly exposed to asbestos and who suffer from household exposures.
The firm has represented individuals exposed to asbestos from all types of unforeseen exposures. We have represented hundreds of employees and supervisors working at facilities as employees or contractors for large companies including: Duke Energy Corporation, CP &L, Dupont, Alcoa, Weyerhaeuser, Fieldcrest Cannon, Celanese, Continental Tire, Champion Paper, International Paper, Bowater, Dayco, General Electric, Johns Manville, Raybestos, UNARCO, and many others.
The firm has represented many of the asbestos insulators and tradesmen who unknowingly worked in facilities with or around asbestos exposing themselves and others including family members. These workers include employees of Daniel Construction, North Brothers, Standard Insulation, Covil Insulation, Guy M. Beatty, Piedmont Insulation, and many others.
Bill Graham has represented many Navy and other military victims who were exposed during various stages of their military service especially while working in the boiler rooms aboard ships at sea. He is currently representing asbestos disease victims arising out of talc exposures arising from work with various processes in which powder or talc was used which unknowingly contained asbestos. In several cases we have represented bowlers who were exposed to asbestos talc, hairdressers and others who unknowingly used powders with talc that contained deadly asbestos.
How does asbestos get in your lungs?
The tiny asbestos fibers can escape into the air, and when inhaled or breathed in, these fibers can stay in your lungs permanently. Exposure to asbestos can lead to numerous debilitating illnesses and diseases, many of which can develop years after someone has been exposed to asbestos fibers.
What does asbestos exposure cause?
Asbestos mainly affects the lungs and the membrane that surrounds the lungs. Breathing high levels of asbestos fibers may result in scar-like tissue in the lungs and in the pleural membrane (lining) that surrounds the lung. If asbestos fibers get into, or build up, in your lungs it is possible for the following health conditions to occur:
- Pleural Plaque is the hardening and thickening of the tissue surrounding the lungs and diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs).
- Asbestosis develops from a slow buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs and membrane, which surrounds the lungs. It is a scarring of the lung tissue, which can relate to shortness of breath.
- Lung Cancer is cancer that forms in the lung tissues, usually in the cells lining the air passages.
- Pleural Mesothelioma is cancer of the pleura, the membranes lining the thorax and enveloping the lungs.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma is a rare cancer in the lining of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum.
- Cancers of the esophagus, stomach, intestine, colon and other internal organs
- Ovarian Cancer*
These diseases do not develop immediately following exposure to asbestos, but appear only after a number of years. These cancers can be fatal, with mesothelioma being usually fatal within a few months of diagnosis.
What type of cancer does asbestos cause?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, and the EPA have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen. In short, it is well known that breathing asbestos can increase the risk of cancer in people. There are various types of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos with the two most common being lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lung (pleural membrane) or abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). Cancer from asbestos does not develop at the time of exposure but shows up years later. Studies of workers also suggest that breathing asbestos can increase chances of getting cancer in other parts of the body (stomach, intestines, esophagus, pancreas, and kidneys). Early identification and treatment of any cancer can increase an individual's quality of life and survival.
Cigarette smoke and asbestos together significantly increase your chances of getting lung cancer. Therefore, if you have been exposed to asbestos you should stop smoking. This may be the most important action that you can take to improve your health and decrease your risk of cancer.
Lung cancer is a malignant tumor that invades and obstructs the lung's air passages. The most common symptoms of lung cancer are cough, wheezing, unexplained weight loss, coughing up blood, and labored breathing.
Other symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, persistent chest pain, hoarseness, and anemia. People who develop these symptoms do not necessarily have lung cancer, but they should consult a physician for advice.
Does asbestos cause ovarian cancer?
In recent years, ovarian cancers have also been linked to asbestos exposure. It has been found that women that used some talcum powder products have developed ovarian cancers. In these cases, it is believed that some women that have used talcum powders, which can contain naturally occurring asbestos fibers, for feminine hygiene purposes have developed asbestos-related diseases.
Examples of products that have been found to contain asbestos and that have been associated with cases of ovarian cancer included products made by Johnson & Johnson, including two of their flagship products, Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Body Powder. Both of these products have been associated with the development of ovarian cancer in some women.
What are my legal rights?
Workers afflicted with asbestos-related illnesses have brought lawsuits against their employers, the manufacturers of the asbestos products and the sites where asbestos was located, distributors, and premises owners, among others. Different states have different laws that address what claims can and cannot be pursued. The potential claims that a victim has depends on many factors and circumstances including when and how they were exposed.
Many companies knew that asbestos was dangerous but did little or nothing to protect those workers exposed. The initial lawsuits served as warnings to the asbestos companies, and afterwards they tried to cover up the health effects of asbestos.
We will advise you at no charge of what your legal rights are and whether we believe you may recover for your alleged injury. We do not accept everyone who seeks our help as clients as we carefully evaluate your individual situation before we advise you if we can be of assistance and if so, how we might can help you.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name of a group of highly fibrous minerals with separable, long, and thin fibers. Separated asbestos fibers are strong enough and flexible enough to be spun and woven. Regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognize six asbestos minerals:
- Chrysotile, a serpentine mineral with long and flexible fibers
- Amphibole (with relatively brittle crystalline fibers)
- Actinolite asbestos
- Tremolite asbestos
- Anthophyllite asbestos
- Crocidolite asbestos
- Amosite asbestos
Asbestos minerals have separable long fibers that are strong and flexible enough to be spun and woven into cloth and other products. However, its most important quality is that it is heat resistant. This quality has been known for more than 2,000 years.
Asbestos was named by the Ancient Greeks, its name meaning "inextinguishable". It was used for a variety of purposes by the Greeks who noted its harmful biological effects and they observed the "sickness of the lungs" in the slaves that wove asbestos into cloth.
Asbestos use became most popular during the Industrial Revolution beginning in the late 1800s. It then began to be used as insulation for steam pipes, turbines, boilers, kilns, ovens, and other high-temperature products. Ancient observations of the health risks of asbestos were either forgotten or ignored.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer which may affect the lining of the lings (pleura) or the abdominal contents (peritoneum). Most mesotheliomas are caused by exposure to asbestos. As a matter of fact, In the United States, there is no other known proven cause of mesothelioma other than asbestos. Tumors of the mesothelium can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Since malignant mesothelioma is much more common than benign mesothelioma it is often simply called mesothelioma. Characteristics of a malignant tumor include the ability to spread to other parts of the body, making it much more dangerous.
Approximately three-fourths of mesothelioma cases start in the chest cavity and are known as pleural mesothelioma. Another 10% to 20% begin in the abdomen and are called peritoneal mesothelioma. Those starting in the cavity around the heart, or pericardial mesothelioma, are very rare. The covering layer of the testicles is an outpouching of peritoneum into the scrotum. Mesothelioma that affects this covering of the testicles is quite uncommon.
Mesothelioma is still rare. There are about 2,000 to 3,000 new cases per year in the United States. Most of the people who are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma are over fifty years old and is seen more often with people in their seventies, since they were exposed to asbestos in the 1940s-50s or earlier. Those who were exposed to asbestos in the 1960s-70s may be diagnosed in years to come. The disease attacks men 3 to 5 times more than women. Men are more likely than women to get this disease because men held more construction positions than women in past decades (before the women's rights movement had taken place).
Mesothelioma is also more common to Caucasians than in African Americans. Even though this disease is rare it is very serious. By the time it is diagnosed it is often in its advanced stages, making the outlook not as good as it is for other cancers that are found earlier. The average survival time is about 1 to 2 years after being diagnosed. Of course, survival rates are increasing due to advances in medical technology and new treatments that are being developed for mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma has been diagnosed in asbestos workers, family members, and residents who live close to asbestos mines.
Treatment of mesothelioma may vary depending on the type, its aggressiveness and other factors. However, a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy is used in most cases. Duke University Medical Center in Durham North Carolina is a leading Medical Center helping victims of this disease caused by asbestos exposure.