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The Wizard of Oz or The Wizard of Lethal Asbestos Exposure?

asbestos exposureLike most Americans, you may be fond of the classic 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz”. It turns out that the merry old land of Oz was a toxic cloud of lethal asbestos exposure.

Remember that famous poppy field scene? The one in which the Glinda the Good Witch counters the sleep-inducing effect of the Wicked Witch’s poppies with snow? You’ll be shocked to know that the “snow” falling on Dorothy played by Judy Garland, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man was made from 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos—despite the fact that the health hazards of asbestos had been known for several years.

Chrysotile, or “white” asbestos, visually resembles real snow. Throughout the late 1920s and 30s, artificial snow made from asbestos was sold under dozens of brand names such as “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow Drift.”

Sadly, this hadn’t changed by the 1950s. As Bing Crosby sings the title song in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” a stage hand was overhead dumping asbestos “snow” on him, the National Institute for Occupational Safety Hazards reports.

Because the “Wizard of Oz” calls for the Scarecrow played by Ray Bolger to have several close run-ins with fire, his straw-filled costume is reported to have been flame-proofed with asbestos

Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed Miss Gulch and her evil alter ego the Wicked Witch of the West in the “The Wizard of Oz,” wielded a burning broom made of asbestos. Although the witch later melted, her asbestos broom didn’t, according to a newspaper report.

Although none of the principal actors in “The Wizard of Oz” are known to have died from any cause related to asbestos, it is sadly worth noting that Jack Haley, Jr., an award-winning director and producer and the son of Jack Haley who played the Tin Man, is reported to have developed “respiratory failure” and died at age 67 in 2001. Could it have been mesothelioma from asbestos dust unknowingly brought home by his father during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz”? We’ll never know.

Judge Decides Asbestos Lawsuit Should Go to Trial

asbestos lawsuitAn old laboratory parts catalog provided an Alameda County Superior Court judge with sufficient evidence to enable Kazan Law clients James and Louise Leonard to take a step towards justice with their asbestos lawsuit.

Judge Jo-Lynne Q. Lee decided that their case Leonard v. Avantor Performance Materials, Inc., et al., (Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG13684263) could move forward to trial. The Leonards were represented by asbestos attorneys Ted Pelletier and Autumn Mesa.

James Leonard, now 71, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2013.  He had worked as an operator in Dow Chemical’s research department from the early 1960s to the 1970s. There he built and operated laboratory tests that investigated whether new products were ready for mass production.

Mr. Leonard’s exposure to asbestos began half a century ago and continued for nearly 10 years during his work in test labs where he wrapped glass lab equipment with asbestos and then later scraped the asbestos from the lab’s glassware.  This asbestos wrap and other asbestos lab products were supplied by research laboratory product distributor VWR, along with other asbestos lab products.

At his deposition, defendants’ lawyers asked Mr. Leonard to identify the brand, manufacturer and supplier of the equipment and asbestos materials he used during the 1960s and early 1970s when he worked in labs. He couldn’t do it and said he could probably provide the information if he was shown a catalog.  But the defense lawyers did not show him a catalog.

VWR asked the court to throw out the asbestos lawsuit because Mr. Leonard did not have and could not obtain sufficient evidence necessary for trial.  But the judge agreed with us that defendants’ failure to show Mr. Leonard catalogs at deposition coupled with his later identification of asbestos products from VWR catalogs demonstrates that there is sufficient evidence for the case to be tried in court.

We applaud Judge Lee’s understanding that the public‘s safety is a serious matter that should not depend on a lawyer’s game of “Gotcha!” Manufacturers and distributors of dangerous products need to be held accountable for harming people even when those harmed cannot recall from memory all the 50 year-old details about each product.

GM Responds to Ignition Switch Glitches but Not to Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureAn Open Letter to Ken Feinberg, settlement administrator for GM, and Mary Barra, GM CEO:

When will you accept full responsibility for those whom you are killing slowly through asbestos exposure? Why are the lives of those killed through flawed engineering more important to you than those killed through flawed choice of materials? Is it because you only care to do the right thing if it involves consumers who buy your products and not the mechanics you knowingly subjected to asbestos exposure?

GM has just recalled another 8.5 million vehicles, including more than 8 million for ignition-switch defects, and said it knew of three deaths in accidents involving the affected cars.

This boosts to about 29 million cars and trucks that GM has recalled in North America this year—a number greater than the company’s combined U.S. sales for the years 2005 through 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ken Feinberg, you explained to the media all about the GM fund you’ll oversee to compensate for deaths and injuries. You are quoted in USA Today as saying there is no limit on the amount you can award individual claims, nor on the total amount of GM’s money you can spend. “GM delegated to me full and sole discretion to decide which claims are eligible, and how much money they should get.” you said.

Why then did GM declare bankruptcy in 2009 to avoid compensating those suffering from malignant mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure from working on GM cars?

Thousands of people have developed asbestos-related illnesses as a result of GM. By 2009, the company was liable for an estimated $636 million in asbestos claims, and GM filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Following the bankruptcy reorganization in 2009, GM’s debts were transferred to Motors Liquidation Company. This included all present and future asbestos liability claims. The Motors Liquidation Company Asbestos PI Trust officially opened on April 30, 2012 to settle any present and future asbestos lawsuits paying only pennies on the dollar.

Mary Barra, when you took the reins of GM you admirably said GM has a “civic and moral responsibility” towards those harmed. Why the double standard that embraces responsibility for those harmed by driving your cars but sidesteps responsibility for those who worked on them? As I’ve said before, the end result of both is death and bereaved families.

It’s good that GM recognizes part of its moral responsibility to some of those Americans it has and will kill and maim. But ignoring all its asbestos victims isn’t moral; it’s hypocrisy. Shame on GM. Shame on Ken and Mary.

How Much Asbestos Exposure is Dangerous?

asbestos exposureBecause of my expertise in asbestos, I am often asked, “How much asbestos exposure is safe?”

The short answer is none. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets an asbestos-related disease. Similarly not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer or emphysema. People sometimes say, “Oh my Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe smoked two packs a day and lived to a hundred.” That very well may be but the odds are highly against it. Are you willing to take that chance and risk your life that you are one of the very few not vulnerable? I hope not.

Although asbestos exposure does not guarantee that you will get sick, anyone exposed to asbestos has a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. These include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – all require very extensive medical treatment and are unlikely to be cured.

Even very small amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. We have had many cases of family members developing mesothelioma from asbestos dust a worker in the family unknowingly brought home on his or her clothes.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell when asbestos is in the air and damaging your lungs. Asbestos does not make you cough or sneeze. It will not make your skin or throat itch. Asbestos fibers get into the air when asbestos materials are damaged, disturbed or handled unsafely. When asbestos is crushed, it does not make ordinary dust. It breaks into microscopic fibers that are too small to see or feel.

Asbestos fibers are so small and light that they can stay airborne days after they were released into the environment. While these particles are airborne, anyone could unknowingly inhale them. Because the fibers are so tiny, they can travel deep into the lungs where they can remain for years without you knowing they’re there.

All asbestos diseases have a latency period – a gap between the time you breathe in asbestos and when you actually start to feel sick. It may take 10 to 40 years after asbestos exposure, for you to feel symptoms of asbestos-related disease.

If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor about getting a chest x-ray or CAT scan. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos.   And remember, there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure.

Workers Rights Summer Brown Bag Series

workers rightsOur mission at Kazan Law to defend those harmed by workplace asbestos exposure keeps us focused on worker safety and workers’ rights.  Manufacturing may have declined in the United States in recent years but blue collar work – whether in agriculture, automotive or service industries – has not. A 2012 survey finds that in California blue collar workers outnumbered white collar workers 61% to 39%.  For that same year, Worksafe, a California nonprofit that Kazan Law has supported for many years, reported that 451,500 of those blue collar workers were injured or made ill at their jobs. An additional 339 were killed.

Therefore we feel that it is important to educate our summer asbestos law clerks as well as new employees of the firm who have recently graduated not just about the law and our practice, but also about our deep commitment to justice for all and defending workers’ rights to safety and health on the job as well as other important workers’ rights.  One of the ways we do this is with a weekly brown bag lunch series throughout the summer. The summer law clerks and any staff who choose to attend bring their lunch at noon to our conference room. There we provide cookies and beverages along with short documentary films and/or in-person talks from administrative law judges, attorneys, union representatives, and others involved in advocating for workers, including attorneys on our staff.

This inspiring series is coordinated by Fran Schreiberg, Of Counsel staff attorney who has made a career safeguarding workers rights on a state and federal level.

Topics include:

Meet Arthur Bryant and Sarah Belton of Public Justice Bryant, President of Public Justice and the Public Justice Foundation, has won major victories and established new precedents in several areas of the law, including constitutional law, toxic torts, civil rights, consumer protection, and mass torts.  The National Law Journal named him one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in America. Sarah Beltonjoined the Public Justice Oakland office in June 2013 as the first Cartwright-Baron Attorney. She was previously an Equal Justice Works fellow and a staff attorney at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco, California.

Report Back from Dhaka, Bangladesh Protecting Bangladesh Garment Workers from Factory Fires and Building Collapses with Garrett Brown, MPH, CIH. Brown worked for Cal/OSHA for 20 years as a compliance officer and Headquarters staff, and is now full-time volunteer Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network.

Making a Killing: Philip Morris, Kraft and Global Tobacco Addiction with discussion by Ted Pelletier This half-hour film shows how the tobacco giant uses its political power, size and marketing skill to spread tobacco addiction internationally, leaving in its wake a trail of death and disease. Pelletier, Of Counsel to the firm, earlier in his career handled the first two appeals v. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds in California, and will share some litigation-specific stories of those cases and how they played a part in cracking Tobacco’s long-asserted lack of liability.

Those Who Know Don’t Tell A powerful documentary about the history of the struggle to rid the workplace of occupational hazards, including asbestos.

Asbestos Attorneys Note April 28 Workers Memorial Day

Workers Memorial Day

Photo credit: AFL-CIO

As asbestos attorneys we take great pride in what we do and rejoice in the multi-million dollar awards we win for our clients. But we never lose sight of the fact that behind every win there is also a loss. That loss is the impending loss of life for each client struggling with malignant mesothelioma. Although we are excellent asbestos attorneys and the doctors who treat malignant mesothelioma are excellent doctors, there is yet no cure.

Today as we observe Workers Memorial Day with millions of others all over the world, we recall the brave wonderful people we have represented. The AFL-CIO slogan for this year’s Workers Memorial Day – Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living – resonates profoundly for each of us at Kazan Law. Because that is what we do every day.

This year between 2,500 and 3,000 US citizens will be diagnosed with mesothelioma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mesothelioma is 100% attributable to exposure to asbestos. In almost every instance the asbestos exposure happened because of the work they or someone in their family did. (Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when the person working with asbestos unknowingly brings the lethal microscopic fibers into the home on their clothes).

High-risk work groups for exposure to asbestos include: shipyard workers, oil refinery workers, manufacturing workers, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, machinists, or construction workers. Typically the exposure to asbestos occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s. The damage to the lungs, typically as malignant mesothelioma takes decades to emerge. But when it does, it is irreversible.

Four decades ago, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, promising every worker the right to a safe job.  Unions have fought to make that promise a reality—winning protections that have made jobs safer, saved lives and prevented millions of workplace injuries and illnesses. Businesses falsely claim that these regulations and protections kill jobs. The fact is these regulations and protections keep jobs and employers from killing workers. But there is still more to be done – especially on a global scale.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), across the world:

  • Each year, more than two million men and women die as a result of work-related accidents and diseases
  • Workers suffer approximately 270 million accidents each year, and fall victim to some 160 million incidents of -related illnesses
  • Hazardous substances kill 440,000 workers annually – asbestos claims 100,000 lives
  • One worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide. 6,000 workers die every day. More people die at work than fighting wars.

To find a Workers’ Memorial Day event near you, check here.

FAIR Act Would Have Been Unfair to Asbestos Victims

12_27_05_Daily_JournalAs we celebrate Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary with “Throwback Thursday” posts about the firm’s history, I recall a time not too long ago when the firm almost ceased to exist.  Powerful corporate interests fueled a push for federal legislation that would have made all asbestos law firms extinct.  And Kazan Law, one of the best asbestos law firms in the US, would no longer have been able to advocate for mesothelioma patients and other asbestos victims whose lives have been devastated by being exposed to asbestos.

The 2005 legislation was cleverly named “The FAIR Act” – The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act – but it would have been profoundly unfair to those asbestos victims with a claim to bring against a company who had knowingly caused them to be exposed to asbestos.

The FAIR Act, if it had been enacted into law, would have prohibited injured asbestos victims from bringing asbestos claims against individual defendants.  They would have had to file asbestos claims with an Orwellian-sounding Office of Asbestos Disease Compensation. This Office would have administered a fund called the Asbestos Injury Claims Resolution Fund. A panel would have determined each victim’s compensation amount, if any. Victims who developed fatal asbestos related cancers such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer would have been limited to $1 million in compensation.  Totally inadequate.

Companies guilty of grave misdeeds and crimes against innocent people would have gotten off with a pittance.  And I, my partners and my entire staff would have been out of a job.

“I have threatened one of my partners that his new full-time job will be to teach me how to play golf,” I told a reporter for the San Francisco Daily Journal, a local legal newspaper, for an article about the proposed legislation at the time.  “I will probably retire.”

That was almost a decade ago.   The FAIR Act was an unfair bad idea and it was justifiably defeated. It never became law.  Kazan Law has gone on to win multi-million dollar verdicts for our clients, several in this past year. We remain engaged and impassioned about seeking justice for asbestos victims.  And I still haven’t needed to learn to play golf.

Read the December 27, 2005 article from the Daily Journal.

Some Things Still Ring True After Four Decades of Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Steven Kazan 1985This month Kazan Law celebrates four decades of obtaining justice for asbestos victims.  To commemorate the occasion, we are taking a look at the firm’s history to participate in our own unique way in social media’s Throwback Thursday. In my last post, I talked about how I founded Kazan Law in March 1974 when as a young attorney I found myself representing dying workers. They had been exposed to asbestos because of a company whose name now has become synonymous with asbestos litigation:  Johns Manville.  It was a landmark case that set a legal precedent and launched me on my journey of handling over a thousand of asbestos litigation cases.

In the firm’s archives, I found an interview I gave to the California edition of the Daily Journal, a legal community newspaper, in 1985. Some of what I said then about asbestos litigation still rings true now.  So for Throwback Thursday, here are several excerpts:

Working with asbestos-related clients is both depressing and rewarding, according to Oakland attorney Steven Kazan who heads one of the Bay Area’s major plaintiff’s asbestos practices.  “As much as you try to retain a sense of detachment, you get involved,” said Kazan, the founder of Kazan & McClain. But helping to obtain financial security for asbestos victims dying of chronic disease is rewarding.

Still true.  Except today it is Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, A Professional Law Corporation.

Kazan said his firm will look at about 1,800 possible cases this year, 1,000 of them asbestos-related and take only about 100 of them, the article states.

Factors Kazan uses in evaluating potential cases include:

  • the degree of disability

  • the evidence of asbestos exposure

  • potential monetary damages

Also still true.

Kazan said he sometimes advises people with minor asbestos-related problems to wait and see if their illness progresses to avoid settling for an amount of money that will not cover their medical expenses if their condition worsens.

Still good advice.

Although exposure to asbestos has greatly decreased due to public awareness of its dangers, may people have been exposed but not yet become ill and Kazan predicted that he won’t have to change his practice much in the near future.

“For the next 10 to 15 years there will be a substantial volume of asbestos litigation,” Kazan said.

Sadly, this also has proved to be true.  In fact, it’s been more than 25 years and the need to help obtain financial security for asbestos victims continues to drive myself and my associates forward in our work more than ever.

Why Choosing an Asbestos Attorney is the Most Important Financial Decision You’ll Ever Make

asbestos attorneyLast summer I received an honor from Kazan Law client Debbie Clemmons, who lost her beloved husband Randy Clemmons to mesothelioma. She honored me by asking me to write a chapter for her new book about her family’s experience with mesothelioma, “In His Grace, Grappling with Mesothelioma: The Randy Brady Story”, available on Amazon . And she kindly credits me as a co-author.  Now I am going to honor Debbie and Randy Clemmons by sharing with you the information she prompted me to write.

Selecting an asbestos attorney to represent you and your family is the most important financial decision you will ever make.

It is a more important decision than even buying a home.  Your home could potentially yield you a couple of hundred thousand dollars in return on investment if property values skyrocket in your neighborhood.  But an asbestos case properly handled by a top quality asbestos attorney from a reputable firm that specializes in asbestos can be worth millions to you and your family.

Money cannot replace a person.  But money can prevent additional unnecessary suffering on the part of the family by paying the bills. It also helps give you and your family a sense of justice.  A great harm was done to you and a good asbestos attorney can make sure that those responsible are held accountable, and that the family’s financial security is guaranteed.

Your medical care expenses and the loss of earnings can be compensated with substantial settlements if you choose your asbestos attorney carefully.  But what’s more, you could potentially – as many of my firm’s clients choose to do – set aside a portion of the money you receive for mesothelioma medical research, and we will be honored to contribute to that effort through our firm’s charitable foundation.

You could support a charitable trust to help fund medical research seeking to find a cure and better treatment for mesothelioma.  You could help create a future where possibly no one will suffer from the debilitating effects and losses of this disease.  This would be money that would never go towards this important cause unless someone like you puts it there.  And this would only be possible if you work with an asbestos attorney who is experienced and willing to fight for you every inch of the way, not just take the easy way out and settle for a minimal amount.

Again, this is the most crucial financial decision you will ever make in your life. Getting it wrong could harm your chance of providing your family with financial security for after you’re gone.

Scientist Secretly Associated with Asbestos Industry May Help Weaken Asbestos Laws

asbestos lawsCreating asbestos laws depends on rigorous honest scientific information.  In order for asbestos laws to protect people, lawmakers need reliable scientific evidence about the harm asbestos exposure does to people exposed to this highly toxic substance.

New stricter asbestos laws and better regulations regarding workplace and product safety to prevent asbestos exposure often hinge on testimony from scientific experts in medicine, epidemiology and toxicology.  When leading scientists allow themselves to become corrupted by money from industries with vested interest in weaker rather than stronger asbestos laws, public health suffers.  Individual people suffer.  They become very sick and die because asbestos laws in their country failed to protect them.

The outcome of asbestos court cases can also depend on reliable scientific evidence about asbestos because courts and juries need to know the facts to determine whether asbestos laws were violated.

We have reported here about university scientists in the U.S., Scotland and Canada who are accused of selling out to the asbestos industry.  Now, new evidence points to a prominent European scientist who is alleged to also have been swayed by asbestos industry bribes.

What is most disturbing is that the scientist in question, Paolo Boffetta, is expected to become the next head of France’s leading epidemiology institute, the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP).  This would greatly increase his influence over France’s asbestos laws and regulations.

Kathleen Ruff, an international anti-asbestos advocate based in Canada, reports that Boffetta was the lead author of an industry-friendly article, Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, in the British Journal of Cancer.

 

The article concludes, “… that the mesothelioma-producing potential of chrysotile is low and thus the number of mesothelioma deaths will be too unstable to be used to estimate the lung cancers caused by it.”

Bofetta submitted the article under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Bofetta, along with the other authors, declared “no conflict of interest”.

Yet at the same time that he was co-writing IARC’s article, Boffetta reportedly was being paid by an Italian asbestos company to help it defeat charges of criminal negligence, causing the deaths of a dozen workers who died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos used at the company’s Montefibre factory in Italy.

Keep in mind that the IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.  So this chain of events is like discovering that the National Cancer Institute of NIH has been infiltrated and corrupted by the asbestos industry.

Bofetta testified in support of the company’s argument that if workers had been exposed to asbestos in the distant past, it did not matter if they were subsequently exposed to asbestos. He claimed that repeated, subsequent doses of asbestos do not cause further harm to workers so there should be no consequences to the company for having continued to expose its workers to asbestos over the ensuing decades.

Italian epidemiologist Dario Mirabelli noted according to Ruff’s report that Boffetta considered “a very limited number of studies and the results of those that were considered, were selectively reported. For example, they cite our most recent article on mortality among workers in the Eternit plant in Casale Monferrato, but they do not cite our main result, which is that mesothelioma mortality is directly proportional to the duration of exposure asbestos.”

So in other words, the fox can’t be trusted to guard the henhouse.

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