Retired Penn State Professor’s Family Sues University After His Mesothelioma Death

Nearly six years after retired Penn State University professor Peter Labosky Jr. died of malignant mesothelioma, his family’s lawsuit against the school is making its way through Pennsylvania’s courts.  The case is notable both because it is the first filed against a university by a former employee, and because it was made possible by a 2013 Pennsylvania court ruling that allowed employees to sue employers for negligence beyond filing for workers’ compensation.

Professor Exposed to Asbestos Dust from Academic Buildings

When Mr. Labosky was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 2014, it was 12 years after he’d retired from his job as a professor of wood sciences at the noted state school. His family blames his death on the asbestos dust that was found in the buildings where he taught, as well as in academic buildings throughout the state.

By some estimates, asbestos is present in hundreds of thousands of buildings constructed in the United States during the years when the carcinogen was most frequently used. Many of these buildings are schools, where it is found in ceiling and floor tiles and insulation, as well as other applications. Though teachers and school employees have traditionally been unable to hold their employers liable for injury suffered as a result of negligence in not removing asbestos from their buildings, emeritus professor at  Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law says this lawsuit could be a game changer. “This could raise a lot of concern by employers with regard to the facilities they provide to their workers which may contain asbestos products.” 

Schools Face Calls for Asbestos Removal

Removing asbestos from buildings is costly, and is one of the only tools available to protect employees from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. The City of Philadelphia has faced repeated reports of unacceptable asbestos levels in its district schools, and recently agreed to an $850,000 settlement with a teacher diagnosed with the disease. Other schools and universities in the state and around the country are watching what happens closely.

In the case of Penn State, a study conducted in the mid-1970s identified almost 100 buildings contaminated with asbestos. Over the years the school has spent significant sums on asbestos remediation, but in1989 a decision was made that removal of asbestos would stop due to budgetary concerns. A notification about this change read, “In all future projects, our goal should be to minimize the removal of asbestos to only what is absolutely required. Obviously, this will help us a lot in the area of project budgets.” Internal documents indicate that the school was aware of over 500 buildings containing asbestos as late as 2006.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, you need to know whether your asbestos exposure came from your workplace or elsewhere. For information, contact the Patient Advocates at at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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