Settlement Reached in Washington Secondhand Asbestos Exposure Case
Washington state’s King County awarded 3.5 million dollars to the estate of the recently deceased Barbara Brandes, who died of malignant mesothelioma at 80 years of age, less than one year after being diagnosed. Mesothelioma is a very fast-spreading, swiftly growing form of cancer whose most common cause is exposure to the mineral fiber asbestos over the long term. Asbestos was—and in some places, still is—often utilized in the fields of construction, vinyl tile manufacturing, automotive part manufacturing, and in building or pipe insulation. Exposure to asbestos is all too commonplace among those who worked in these fields—but Brandes was not employed in a career where job-related asbestos exposure could occur.
How it happened
Although Barbara Brandes did not work in an industry where vocational asbestos exposure was the norm, her husband, Raymond did—and each day when he returned home from the Ferndale refinery he was employed by, his clothing was contaminated by asbestos dust which had lodged itself into the fabric during the course of any given work day. When Mr. Brandes came home, Mrs. Brandes would shake off the excess dust that clung to her husband’s work uniform before laundering them. She would then tidy up the laundry area with a broom and dispose of the toxic dust in the waste bin. For years, she followed this same routine, not realizing that her laundering ritual was causing her to come into close contact with a deadly carcinogen that would—decades later—lead to her illness and death.
Secondhand exposure to asbestos is a serious concern
Although more and more people are now aware that working closely with asbestos is a major health hazard, few are aware of just how dangerous secondhand exposure to the toxin can be. Just as working in a factory clouded by asbestos-contaminated dust holds a high risk for the development of asbestos-related illness, so does regularly washing asbestos-laced clothing for a loved one—or hugging that loved one when he returns home from work each day.
The Brandes case is far from out of the ordinary
While most asbestos-related disease diagnoses are made in people who worked directly in an asbestos-contaminated environment, there has been an uptick in diagnoses being made in individuals who had no direct contact with asbestos themselves—often the wives and children of men who worked in factories, refineries, or in construction. These family members were indirectly exposed to the carcinogenic mineral by unknowingly handling or breathing in the toxic substance when it was brought home from their loved ones’ work site.
What the future may hold
Because asbestos-related illnesses often take years to manifest symptoms, diagnoses of mesothelioma and asbestosis are only now reaching their peak, even though the popularity of asbestos usage has been tapering off since the 1980s, with many countries now having full bans in place. It is possible that, along with vocationally related mesothelioma claims, secondhand-exposure claims—like that of the Brandes estate—will also rise as more victims are diagnosed. This settlement has set a precedent for other victims and potential claimants whose mesothelioma came about due to indirect exposure to asbestos.
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