People who get diagnosed with mesothelioma fall into two categories, said New York attorney Joseph Belluck.
There are those who know automatically how they were exposed to asbestos, the toxic fibers that when inhaled can cause respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen.
“They worked in a Navy ship, or they worked in a factory,” said Belluck, noting occupations commonly associated with asbestos exposure. “They were an automobile mechanic. Their father was a plumber.”
Then there are other people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma who have no idea how they were exposed. They’re looking for answers.
“In almost every case like that, we are able to find an exposure to asbestos,” said Belluck, a partner in Belluck & Fox, a nationally-known law firm that specializes in representing victims of asbestos-related disease. “We’ve represented dentists, veterinarians, physicians, laboratory technicians, teachers. A lot of times people have worked with asbestos, for example dentists or jewelers, and they’re not even aware that they did.”
A Life History
Belluck said it’s important to keep in mind that if someone has mesothelioma, then they were exposed to asbestos at some point. Identifying the exposure is a matter of thoroughly examining their background.
“We start by meeting with our client and taking a very, very thorough life history of the client that includes their occupational history, any military service that they had and any work with asbestos that they would have done at their home or on their automobiles,” Belluck said.
“A lot of times the clients aren’t even aware that certain things they did exposed them to asbestos,” Belluck said. “So that interview is very, very important.
“We have dealt with people in all walk’s of life so we have a good idea of what questions to ask,” he said.
In addition, the lawyers gather information about the occupations of their client’s parent, children and spouses to see if there might have been second-hand exposure to asbestos through other family members.
“If the person served on a ship in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, we would get records from the Coast Guard or the Navy as to the design of the ship and what equipment was on the ship,” Belluck said. “We would hire a researcher in Washington to go to the Naval archives or the Coast Guard archives and actually pull the drawings and documents related to the specific ship that our clients were on.”
“There is a lot of investigation that goes into the case prior to filing it so we know who the proper defendants are,” he said.
New York Work Sites
For many work sites in New York, Belluck & Fox has already conducted extensive investigations and document reviews and is familiar with the equipment and types of boilers on site and possible ways workers could be exposed to asbestos.
“If someone worked at the Kodak plant in Rochester (https://www.belluckfox.com/new-york-asbestos-companies/eastman-kodak/) or the General Electric plant in Schenectady (https://www.belluckfox.com/new-york-asbestos-companies/ge-schenectady/), we’ve already done a lot of work on those sites and the products that we were there,” Belluck said.
“We would use a lot of records and documents that we already have in house here, which is really the main reason to hire a firm like ours,” Belluck said. “We already have a lot of the information and knowledge stored here that allows us to prosecute the lawsuit.”
The number of defendants often named in asbestos lawsuits also makes the cases somewhat unusual. “There may be 15 or 20 parties that contribute to a settlement or overall recovery,” Belluck said. “The majority of defendants settle and one or two hang around and we either have to start trial or finish trial against those.”
Fast Track Docket
Belluck said most cases settle out of court, although every case is prepared as if it is going to trial. Because New York courts often grant requests to put asbestos lawsuits on an expedited schedule because of the plaintiff’s declining health, the cases are often resolved in a year or less.
“It’s a very, very fast docket.” Belluck said. “From the time that we get the case until the time that it’s over is usually seven to 12 months.”
The cases typically settle without a trial, which means the plaintiffs receive their compensation more quickly.
“There are a lot of benefits to settlement for everybody in terms of the risk involved, expense of trial, the emotional and time commitment of a trial,” Belluck said.