Victim may bring new suit for mesothelioma despite earlier asbestos suit

Exposure to asbestos can cause a variety of serious diseases and, unfortunately, the diagnosis of such diseases may not come until decades after the exposure. Further complicating the matter, the asbestos-related diseases may not develop in the same timeframe.

For example, mesothelioma may remain latent for 30 to 50 years, while the asbestosis and most lung cancers may remain latent for 10 to 20 years. So what happens if a victim brings a lawsuit for one disease, and then years later discovers he or she has another disease?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court discussed this tragic circumstance in the case of Daley v. A.W. Chesterton, Inc.

A second asbestos-related disease . . . and lawsuit

Diagnosed in 1989, the victim filed a successful personal injury action for compensatory damages caused by pulmonary asbestosis and lung cancer.

Approximately 15 years later, the victim was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The victim brought a new lawsuit, granting that both occurrences were caused by the same asbestos exposure.

The defendant companies argued that because the victim had previously filed an action for an asbestos-related condition in 1990, he could not file an action for a second asbestos-related disease. The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment against the victim-ending his case before he even had his full day in court. The victim appealed this decision.

The "separate disease rule"

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that, prior to 1992, a victim seeking damages in Pennsylvania for injuries resulting from exposure to asbestos was required to file a single cause of action for all present and future harm within two years of the initial diagnosis of any asbestos-related condition. However, this had proven to be an unworkable process and could lead to unfair results.

The concerns this change in the law were designed to address were not limited to situations where a victim suffers one benign asbestos-related disease and one malignant asbestos-related disease. A victim might also suffer from two separate malignant diseases.

Therefore, as the court explained, a victim diagnosed with a malignant disease, and later diagnosed with a separate and distinct malignant disease caused by the same asbestos exposure could benefit from the "separate disease rule," which holds that separate actions for separate and distinct asbestos-related diseases may be brought. Applied to the present case, this meant the victim's mesothelioma lawsuit would be allowed to move forward.

Exploring your legal options

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you should speak with an attorney immediately. Seek an attorney with extensive experience in asbestos-related disease cases, who can provide a wealth of knowledge and insight into scientific research on asbestos as well as explain the range of legal options available for victims.