Silicosis Lawsuits Ever-Increasing
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease condition, similar to mesothelioma cancer, in which individuals mining crystalline silica and breathing in the dust can become infected and die within only a few years.
Silicosis is an incurable form of lung disease that is caused through the inhalation of silica dust. Silicosis in today's society is most known through an incident in the 1930s known as Hawk's Nest, which occurred in West Virginia. Here, workers were ordered to blast through and mine using dynamite without respiratory protective gear. Not even a year later, many of those workers began to die because of their serious respiratory difficulties.
After the Hawk's Nest incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began developing strict requirements making protective wear mandatory. Since the Great Depression, the number of U.S. while silicosis-related deaths have decreased through the years, they are suddenly on the rise.
Silicosis litigation has been on the rise over the past four years in the U.S. has skyrocketed. U.S. Silica, one of the nation’s largest makers of industrial silica sand, reported a tenfold rise in personal-injury suits against it between June of 2001 and June of 2002. In 2001, there were nearly 80 lawsuits in Mississippi alone; by the end of 2004, that figure was more than 20,000.
Part of that rise can be attributed to simple probability. Silica is the second most common mineral on Earth, found in hundreds of industrial materials such as concrete, cement, sands, paints and pavement. In 1705, early European stone cutters began to identify the deadly side effects of working with silica, and while these dangers have been clearly made available throughout the years, employers still do not adequately protect their employees. OSHA reports that 1.7 million U.S. workers are exposed to silica dust each year; 250 of those workers die.
However, the increase in silicosis lawsuits is also because of the similar nature of silica dust to asbestos fibers. Like silica, asbestos is an industrial mineral that was once widespread in construction and manufacturing, potentially exposing millions of Americans to a debilitating disease. Similar to silica dust is asbestos -- asbestos fibers cause the production of cancerous cells in the lungs. The same industries and many of the same companies were involved in the manufacture and use of both minerals.
Unlike silica litigation, asbestos litigation has passed its peak, with many lawsuits either finished or slated for a general settlement fund put together by Congress. With awareness of silica dust’s dangers rising, asbestos attorneys are now lending their experience and expertise to silica litigation.
Like asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases, silicosis is caused by the human body’s inability to breathe out fine particles that reach toxic concentrations with repeated occupational exposure. Silica dust settles into a deep part of the lung and coughing or mucous do not help rid the body of this poison per se. Over time, this causes inflammation, scarring, and a tissue buildup called pulmonary fibrosis — all of which leave the victim short of breath after even light exercise. Other symptoms include fatigue, extremities turning blue, loss of appetite and a persistent cough. In more severe cases, silicosis can weaken the heart and cause respiratory failure, leaving patients dependent on a respirator to breathe. It has no cure. Silicosis is considered 100 percent preventable because it is only caused through occupational exposure.
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