Recently, a former mine and mill employee in Libby, Montana, was awarded $36.5 million in a lawsuit against their employer. During the trial, it was revealed that the mine company was aware of how asbestos was negatively affecting their workers’ health, and chose to remain silent. After hundreds of deaths and thousands of life-threatening illnesses over many years, a successful lawsuit finally concluded in February 2022. But is determining liability and holding the responsible parties accountable always this difficult?

Asbestos Exposure at Work

Lawsuits related to asbestos exposure fall under the category of personal injury law. This means that someone’s negligence caused an injury, in this case mesothelioma or another lung disease. While every other workplace injury falls under workers’ compensation insurance, meaning medical bills are paid by the employer and no lawsuits are allowed, asbestos lawsuits against an employer are permitted.

Depending on who was responsible for the asbestos exposure at work, the lawsuit may be filed against the employer, but it also could be the responsibility of the product manufacturer. Like in all personal injury cases, the burden of proof falls on the injured party. They must show that someone’s negligence, or carelessness, is what caused the injury. So if your employer knows about asbestos exposure, like they did at the Montana mill, it is their responsibility to warn employees and provide the correct protective equipment.

Asbestos Exposure at Home

If there is asbestos in your home because it followed a household member home from work, then you still may be able to hold your employer liable. In the same regard as at work, if the employer’s negligence was responsible for the illness, they can be sued.

If you have an old house that was built using materials with asbestos, that’s another story. It is actually not dangerous to live in a house with asbestos, for example in the roofing or shingles, because the fibers are not being released and inhaled. Only if you are doing construction on that part of the home do you need to be careful about asbestos inhalation.

What can a Lawyer Do

In addition to determining whether you have a potential case, your lawyer will help you with the burden of proof. To find someone negligent, there are four criteria that must be met.

  1. Duty of Care: The defendant has a legal obligation to treat you with care
  2. Breach of Duty: The defendant breached this duty of care
  3. Causation: The defendant’s actions (or lack of them) caused your illness
  4. Damages: You have suffered losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, or emotional distress.

Attorneys who specialize in asbestos cases are a vast source of useful information. They can help you gather evidence such as medical records, an inspection of your workplace, and expert witnesses.