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Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure–and is quite a hot topic in Pennsylvania law, and consequently for any Pennsylvania lawyer.  Malignant cells develop in the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers most of the body’s internal organs–most commonly in the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall, though it can also occur in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity), the heart, the pericardium (a sac that surrounds the heart) or the tunica vaginalis.

Most asbestos exposure occurs on job sites where individuals inhale asbestos particles, or have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways.  For instance, washing the clothes of a family member who has worked with asbestos can also put that person at risk for developing mesothelioma.  Unlike with lung cancer, smoking is not known to cause mesothelioma, but it can greatly increase the risk of other asbestos-induced cancer.  Under Pennsylvania law, compensation via asbestos lawsuits is an important issue in mesothelioma-related cases.

The first symptoms of mesothelioma can actually go undetected for 20 to 50 years after actual asbestos exposure.  Some symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, cough, and pain in the chest due to an accumulation of fluid in the pleural spaces.  Typical symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma include weight loss and cachexia, abdominal swelling and pain due to ascites (a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity).  In some cases, there can be further symptoms such as bowel obstruction, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia, and fever.  If the cancer spreads beyond the mesothelium to other parts of the body, symptoms may include pain, trouble swallowing, or swelling of the neck or face.  Many Pennsylvania residents who find themselves victims of mesothelioma initiate lawsuits via their Pennsylvania lawyers.

Pennsylvania has the dubious honor of being ranked third in the United States for mesothelioma cases. Pennsylvania also clocks in at seventh place when it comes to mesothelioma-related deaths, with a mortality rate of 16.8 per million.  Pennsylvania lawyers have tried many high-profile asbestos lawsuits in this state, both at the state court and Pennsylvania district federal court level.  Thanks to this high volume of cases, it only makes sense that there are more high-profile and high-award mesothelioma cases in Pennsylvania than most other states.

Since 1992, Pennsylvania law has declared the state to be a “two-disease” state.  A court decision determined that asbestosis and lung cancer (as well as mesothelioma) are two different diseases stemming from the same cause.  A person who is diagnosed with asbestosis may file suit for asbestosis, but may not collect damages for increased fear of cancer.

Under Pennsylvania law, courts follow a modified comparative liability (< 51 percent) system in determining damages.  Under this modified comparative liability theory, plaintiffs may recover damages even when found partially at fault in their own injuries as long as their fault is 50 percent or less.  When plaintiffs are found less than 51 percent at fault in their injuries, their awarded damages are consequently reduced proportionate to their percentage of fault.

In cases with multiple defendants, Pennsylvania law dictates a modified joint and several liability system in apportioning the judgment.  Defendants found 61 percent or more negligent in causing damage to the plaintiff are subject to joint and several liability.  Defendants may also be subject to joint and several liability in cases involving releases of toxic substances, intentional torts, intentional misrepresentations, and violations of the liquor code.

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