McBride Asbestos Death Trial Begins

Woodrow McBride of Lynn Haven, Florida, was employed at Smith Power Plant in Southport from 1968 through 1969, then moved to the Crist Power Plant in Pensacola until 1975, after which he went back to Smith until 1996. Both plants are owned by Gulf Power, a subsidiary of utility giant Southern Company.

Somewhere along the way, McBride alleges he was exposed to asbestos during the installation and upkeep of several boilers which were insulated with asbestos-containing materials. He subsequently developed mesothelioma and was diagnosed in September of 2005. He died a year later which is fairly typical of mesothelioma sufferers.

Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a particularly lethal form of lung cancer. Asbestos contains microscopic fibers that – when breathed or ingested – cause irritation of mesothelial tissue in the lungs or digestive system, but more commonly the former.

These lesions are what trigger mesothelioma. Unlike other types of lung cancer, pleural mesothelioma lies dormant for up to five decades, producing few symptoms but an annoying cough. Even when it finally manifests, diagnosis can be difficult and prolonged because mesothelioma produces symptoms much like other lung diseases and cancers.

However, once a diagnosis is definitive, victims are usually so far gone they die within 18 months. Standard treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, or surgery, are generally regarded as more palliative than curative in the case of mesothelioma, and serve only to make patients more comfortable.

One month before his death, McBride and his wife sued A.W. Chesterton Co. and several other corporations which made the boilers or contributed to their construction. General Electric Corp. and Foster Wheeler are among the defendants. GulfPower had asked to be dismissed on the basis that the equipment McBride worked on did not contain asbestos, but there is no indication that the request was granted.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed in Broward County, was later transferred to Panama City, under the jurisdiction of Circuit Judge Hentz McClellan. A jury has been selected and the case is expected to run for two weeks.

For A. W. Chesterton, a 122-year-old firm based in Stoneham, Mass., the trial is yet another salvo in a long and potentially lethal war that is beset on the one hand by the ongoing legacy costs of asbestos, particularly as it relates to mesothelioma, and on the other by tort filings which seek damages from a pool of plaintiffs across the board, thus minimizing the real scope of grievances of victims like McBride.

Chesterton, which used asbestos fibers in its industrial fluid sealing products, is a member of the Coalition for Asbestos Reform and fought the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005, which failed to pass in 2006.

Had it passed, the bill would have established an Asbestos Injury Claims Resolution Fund which required companies like Chesterton and its insurers, which had already been sued, to contribute to a pool from which asbestos claims could be paid. Unfortunately, the assessments ($27 million for large firms, but $16 for even small ones) were entirely unbalanced.

For Chesterton, the future looks rocky. For McBride, there is no future.

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