Peter Labosky Jr. had been retired for 12 years from his job as a professor of wood sciences at Penn State University when he was diagnosed in 2014 with mesothelioma. He died five months later. [This case is an example of a “new” or non-traditional asbestos litigation area.]
Mr. Labosky’s family alleges in a lawsuit filed in 2016 that the university negligently exposed him to asbestos dust after failing to clean it up in buildings where he taught. The case is working its way through state court in Pittsburgh.
The lawsuit is proceeding amid louder calls to clean up asbestos and halt its use nationally. It appears to be the first of its kind brought against a university by a former employee, creating a new path for asbestos litigation, said legal experts. It could open the door to similar suits in Pennsylvania, and raise awareness about potential exposures at universities in other states.
“This could raise a lot of concern by employers with regard to the facilities they provide to their workers which may contain asbestos products,” said Lester Brickman, an emeritus professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has written extensively on asbestos litigation.
Penn State defends its handling of asbestos as proactive and careful and doesn’t comment on pending litigation, said Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for the university.
Asbestos was widely used from the 1940s to the 1980s and is still in hundreds of thousands of buildings, including schools, across the country. Asbestos was banned from most building materials in the 1980s, but older buildings, including schools, typically contain ceilings, floor tiles, pipe insulation and other materials with asbestos used for its fireproof and acoustic qualities….
An estimated 40,000 people die in the U.S. from asbestos-related diseases each year, including mesothelioma, a cancer of the linings of the lungs or stomach that can develop 30 years or more after exposure.
Asbestos litigation, which has been moving through court dockets for years, has to date largely targeted product manufacturers. Workplace injuries are usually handled through workers’ compensation claims, but people who develop asbestos-related diseases years after retiring are often beyond the deadline for filing such a claim against an employer.
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