A 69-year-old Kansas carpenter is dying of heart disease, diabetes and mesothelioma. Doctors say he has only months to live. This week, a jury in Madison County is tasked with determining whether his mesothelioma was caused by his use of drywall joint compounds manufactured by Georgia Pacific — and whether that company is therefore responsible for his illness.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers typically take years to develop and are ultimately fatal in the vast majority of cases. Although most asbestos products have been banned, some 2,000 people are still diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, producing new asbestos liability claims in our courts.
Unfortunately, the Kansas man is too sick to attend. He is living out the last months of his life in a nursing home.
According to his attorney, the man began working carpentry in 1965 and spent about half of his time installing drywall. In that process, joint sealing compound is applied several times to hide the seams. The Kansas man says he always used the popular Georgia Pacific joint compounds.
Little did he know that whenever he mixed the compound or sanded it down, he was being exposed to microscopic asbestos fibers that would ultimately result in mesothelioma, according to the lawsuit. Georgia Pacific’s joint compounds contained asbestos until it was banned in 1977, but the company only added warning labels to those products in 1973 and 1974.
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “The fact is,” his lawyer said, “that while there is no safe level, Mr. Reef was exposed to high levels.”
Georgia Pacific says the jury shouldn’t believe the Kansas man’s claim that he loyally used Georgia Pacific products because he suffers from memory loss. Furthermore, his other illnesses, not his mesothelioma, are the primary causes of his death.
The company also contends that, since there has been no epidemic of asbestos-related cancers among full-time drywall installers, a part-timer like the plaintiff probably didn’t get his from drywall products. Instead, the company asserted, he probably worked in close proximity to insulation products (produced by various manufacturers including Georgia Pacific), which contained much higher levels of asbestos.
The jury will have to decide who to believe. Yet if companies that produce dangerous products are not held financially accountable, they will continue to put innocent people at risk of catastrophic injuries and death.
Source: The Madison-St. Clair Record, “Opening statements delivered in carpenter’s asbestos trial against Georgia Pacific,” Heather Isringhausen Gvillo, Nov. 8, 2013