$3.5 Million Awarded In Second-Hand Asbestos Exposure Case

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The jury of King County has ruled $3.5 million to be paid to the estate of Barbara Brandes who recently passed due to mesothelioma cancer. She started feeling sick in February 2014, was diagnosed with the disease last summer and died on April 15. This was one day before closing arguments in her case against Brand Insulations.

While mesothelioma cancer can have a lengthy latency period, with most cases being diagnosed 30 years or more after the initial asbestos exposure, once diagnosed, it can be extremely aggressive. Barbara Brandes was diagnosed four months after feeling sick and was told she had a year to live.

Mesothelioma is generally thought of as a man’s disease, but the patient profile is changing to include more women. Lately, an increasing number of relatively young females are being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Many of these women have no known work-related contact with the dangerous substance, but rather were exposed through a family member who regularly brought it home. For decades, the most likely way for a woman to develop the cancer was through exposure from a husband, father, or son who worked directly with the substance.

In addition to Brand Insulations, lawsuits were filed against ARCO, Kaiser Gypsum, Hanson Permanente Cement, Metalclad Insulation, Metropolitan Life Insurance, and Union Carbide — all of whom have manufactured, sold, or distributed asbestos-containing products or ones that were used in conjunction with asbestos.

Brandes daughter, Ramona Brandes, remembers her mother dusting off debris from the clothes of her father, Raymond Brandes, after working at the ARCO Cherry Point refinery in Ferndale, Whatcom County. The bits of debris were harmful and turned out to be asbestos, but you can’t see, smell, or taste it.

In a classic case of secondary household exposure, Ms. Brandes would simply wash her husband’s clothes and sweep up the laundry room. Mr. Brandes had no idea he was exposing his wife and eight children to the toxic chemical. He died of numerous diseases in January, with asbestosis being one of them.

“ARCO, when they built the refinery, put in four showers for over 200 workers. You would have to wait hours to take a shower after a shift,” said Ramona Brandes. “My dad didn’t and they did not provide any laundry service.”

Brand Insulations was found guilty of negligence and the $3.5 million was awarded last Tuesday to Ms. Brandes after a two-week trial. This dollar amount is the largest known in Washington state history for second-hand asbestos exposure lawsuits (also known as “take-home” asbestos contamination).

Second-hand asbestos exposure happens through exposure to another person or family member who came into direct contact (often through their job) with the hazardous mineral. This secondary exposure can be just as intense as direct exposure.

Brand Insulation’s representative, David Shaw, said the King County Superior Judge William Downing will be reviewing the verdict on June 5. “If Brand does not get relief we would anticipate an appeal,” said Shaw.

As to the other six companies accused of negligence, conspiracy, will or wanton misconduct, or product liability, they all settled with the Brandes each for an undisclosed amount.