Terminally ill plaintiffs, who were supposed to be guaranteed expedited trials in light of their deteriorating medical conditions, are still waiting for their day in court, according to an NBC Bay Area investigation.
[ Terminally ill plaintiffs ] who are dying are supposed to be granted preferential treatment when it comes to scheduling their trials. That’s the law in California, but COVID-related closures have crippled state courts. The pandemic has resulted in a backlog of cases and has left some courts unable to assemble the juries needed to conduct trials. In four of the Bay Area’s nine counties, civil trials are still on hold.
Lawmakers are now calling on each of California’s 58 superior courts to disclose to the state whether they have violated state law by failing to grant priority to those [ terminally ill plaintiffs ] who are dying.
In January, Alfonso Rocciola began his race against the clock. Diagnosed with mesothelioma, a painful and always fatal cancer that was crushing his lungs, his last wish was to leave behind enough money to take care of his family.
“The first visit to the doctor, he told me that if you don’t do anything, you’re going [to live] between three months to 18 months,” said Rocciola, 82, who was still working as a senior superintendent at construction sites. For nearly five decades, he worked on a slew of iconic buildings, including the Cliff House, Exploratorium, and a scale replica of the legendary Portiuncula Chapel in Assisi, Italy.
“He’s been in construction all these years, and then to have this show up after decades is just a shock,” said Marissa, Alfonso’s wife of 58 years. “ I don’t want to think about him not being here,” she said, “I want to enjoy every day that I have with him and…hopefully tomorrow we have another one.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the main risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, used for decades in construction materials like insulation, sheetrock, and paint.
“It prevents you from breathing,” said Dr. Raja Flores, who treats mesothelioma patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “It is like a boa constrictor that strangles you with each breath…until the tumor basically suffocates you.”
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