It is commonly understood that both smoking and asbestos exposure can be independent causes of the development of lung cancer. Significantly, when a person has been exposed to asbestos and also smokes tobacco, his or her risk of developing lung cancer becomes greater than the combined separate risks of lung cancer from each tobacco and asbestos.
Against this backdrop, a Manhattan (New York City) jury recently awarded a $12.5 million verdict in the case of a mechanic who died from lung cancer and had both smoked and worked on asbestos-containing forklift parts during his lifetime, reports the New York Law Journal.
The victim died at age 67 after having fought the disease for a year and six months. The article reports that court documents reveal that the lifelong, heavy smoker repaired forklifts for more than 10 years while not knowing that the parts, like brakes, gaskets and clutches, in which he came into contact contained asbestos.
Reportedly, there was testimony that the company that used the parts in its forklifts had information in the 1930s that asbestos is dangerous, but did not put warning labels on its products until 1984, well after the victim in this case had worked on them.
In the October 28 verdict, the jury apportioned 45 percent of the fault for the injury to the deceased mechanic himself and 55 percent to the manufacturer, according to the article. The defendant apparently plans an appeal.
Although it is unclear from the article, it is possible that the $12.5 million verdict might be reduced by the court proportionately to account for the mechanic’s 45 percent contribution to his injury under New York’s comparative negligence law.
The lesson to take from this case for someone in this situation who wonders if he or she may have contributed to his or her injury, such as by smoking and thereby increasing lung-cancer risk around asbestos, is to talk to a knowledgeable attorney about the potential for recovery. Contribution toward an asbestos-related disease by the victim may not necessarily prevent the recovery of damages for the harm done. The legal issues and applicable laws will vary from state to state and in each individual set of circumstances.