For individual victims of asbestos disease, workers’ compensation awards are often a lifeline. In this arena Kazan Law has been a leader in formulating law about occupational diseases in California.
One of the major workers’ compensation rulings achieved by former Kazan Law principal Victoria Edises was on behalf of Harvey and Lucille Steele. Mr. Steele was diagnosed with a relatively mild asbestos disease in 1976, but eleven years later he came down with mesothelioma. Kazan Law filed a new workers’ compensation application on his behalf. This new application was contested, but Victoria Edises prevailed when the court ruled that the same asbestos exposure can give rise to separate and different asbestos-related injuries and disabilities.
This ruling is especially important for asbestos victims because people with one disease (like pleural plaques or asbestosis) are at a much higher risk of later developing other asbestos diseases (like mesothelioma or lung cancer.) The Steele decision acknowledged that even though Harvey Steele had already filed a workers’ compensation claim for one asbestos disease, he was nevertheless entitled to file another workers’ compensation claim for the separate injury and disability he suffered when he became ill from mesothelioma.
Another ruling of great benefit to workers’ compensation applicants was in the Force case. In 1984, former principal Victoria Edises obtained workers’ compensation benefits for Mr. Force, a former shipyard worker. George Force and his wife, Lucille, also filed a third party lawsuit against various asbestos manufacturers and distributors, and obtained substantial recoveries.
After Mr. Force passed away, his wife brought a longshore compensation claim. The insurance carrier attempted to obtain credit against its liability for benefits to Mrs. Force, from the monies that Mrs. Force and other members of the Force family received in their successful third party case. Ms. Edises obtained a ruling that limited the credit to that part of the third party settlement apportioned to Mrs. Force. The amounts apportioned to the Force children were excluded. Additionally, the Court found that the employer had the burden of proving apportionment of any third party settlement between multiple parties.
Because of this ruling, insurance carriers can only receive credit for monies paid to the actual applicants and cannot receive credit for monies paid to other parties. For instance, if a jury awards damages to an injured asbestos worker and to his wife and three children, then under Force, the workers’ compensation carrier can get credit only for the monies apportioned to the worker himself, and not for the monies apportioned to his family. The effect of this ruling is to enhance the overall recoveries of workers with asbestos-related diseases, and their families, from their workers’ compensation claims and third party lawsuits.