The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled in favor of an asbestos lawsuit filed against Jackson County, Mo., and a contractor in 2010, allowing the case to move ahead after it was struck down by a Jackson County judge last year.
The appellate court’s ruling opens the door to potentially thousands of courthouse workers, county employees, and others who spent significant amounts of time in the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City since 1983 – the year that the county and its contractor allegedly mishandled asbestos removal during a courthouse renovation.
Citing the lawsuit, the Kansas City Pitch reports that Jackson County hired U.S. Engineering to replace the courthouse’s ventilation systems, which were wrapped in asbestos insulation. The contractor was aware of the asbestos, the lawsuit charges, but instead of taking the proper precautions to remove and remediate it, the company cut into the asbestos without turning off the building’s air handling system, allowing hazardous asbestos dust to circulate throughout the courthouse.
The lawsuit cites one witness who said asbestos dust settled over rooms and objects throughout the courthouse and was so thick “you could run your hand through it.”
Removing asbestos materials from older buildings is a highly specialized and costly process. Improper removal and handling of asbestos causes the fibers to become airborne, putting anyone who inhales the particles at risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other serious asbestos-related diseases.
In its decision, the appeals court said that asbestos fibers remain in the courthouse 30 years after the poorly executed renovation, citing one witness who said that anyone who has spent more than 80 hours a year in the courthouse since 1983 has been exposed to higher than normal levels of asbestos.
The Pitch reports that in 2011 the same defendants settled a single claim stemming from the same renovation project. In that case, Nancy Lopez, who worked as a judge’s assistant during the renovation project until 2007, settled with the county and others for $10 million but died of cancer before the case was settled by her family. That settlement is considered to be the largest in Missouri history.
For more information about asbestos and asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, visit www.myMeso.org.