Jackson County, Kansas, employees were awarded $80 million in a class-action settlement brought forth by two former workers who are concerned about the negative impact asbestos exposure will have on their health in the future. Both plaintiffs, as well as all the workers involved, were potentially exposed to asbestos the Jackson County courthouse.
The Kansas City Star reports that workers were exposed to asbestos when the courthouse when through renovations 30 years ago. Both Jackson County and U.S. Engineering, the Kansas City company hired to overlook the renovations, agreed to the settlement after overwhelming evidence showed that they were responsible for the plaintiffs’ failing health.
Both plaintiffs are concerned about the future of their health after breathing in asbestos fibers daily.
The first plaintiff, Jeanne Morgan, a former courthouse employee, testified that dust and power nearly coated the entire area of the 5th-floor office where she worked. Not only did the dust blow through the air vents, but renovation workers tracked it through the entire building as they hauled out materials. They apparently didn’t bother to take any precautions while renovating the building.
“The particles would be … all over the papers,” said Morgan. “The dust from their boots and their work shoes was on the stairway and in the hallways.”
Another former courthouse worker, David Elsea, the 2nd plaintiff, agreed with Morgan’s testimony. They were both represented by the same asbestos lawyer, who proved that the companies were extremely negligent in the renovation process, literally putting thousands of workers at risk of developing toxic illnesses.
The defendants initially argued that there was no proof that anyone was harmed by asbestos. Yet in 2010, another former courthouse worker, Nancy Lopez, passed away from mesothelioma complications in 2010. Her family won a $10.4 million settlement from U.S. Engineering in 2011.
The plaintiffs’ attorney argued that it’s better to start health monitoring immediately, and on the defendants’ expense, before more people passed away from asbestos-related diseases.
According to the lawsuit, U.S. Engineering constructed the courthouse during the 1950s and used asbestos in a variety of places, including in air ducts and vents, pipes, walling, heating, the air conditioning system, and more. Although it was the norm to use asbestos freely during that time, it wasn’t standard 30 years later when the same company came back to the building to perform renovations.
One of U.S. Engineering’s top former executives testified against the company. He claimed the company did absolutely nothing to stop asbestos fibers from flowing through the building’s vents. They also made no effort to stop asbestos fibers from spreading when workers cut into asbestos-containing materials.
Tyler Nottberg, U.S. Engineering’s current CEO, prepared a written statement read in court last week, stating that the company complied with everything required of them, including relevant industry and regulatory safety standards.”
“Integrity and safety have always been at the heart of our 123-year-old, family-owned business,” the statement read. “And we will not waiver from our commitment to these fundamental values and the Kansas City community, where we are proudly based.”
Part of the $80 million settlement includes around $25 million in lawyer’s fees. The rest of the settlement will go into a “medical monitoring fund,” which will provide workers with the necessary funds to undergo regular medical checkups.
It will cover the costs of medical diagnostic tests for the workers, for the next 30 years. Asbestos-related illnesses can lie dormant for up to 50 years. In rare cases, workers develop asbestos diseases within a few years or less of exposure, but in most cases, illnesses such as asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma don’t surface until 20-50 years after exposure.
Fortunately, asbestos is no longer a danger at the courthouse.
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