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Maryland is home to more than 20 naturally occurring asbestos deposits, including four areas that have a history of being mined. The state, which has a border along the Atlantic Ocean, is also home to a handful of shipyards, some of which have known issues with asbestos exposure. And Baltimore, Maryland, thanks in large part to its role as a thriving shipyard and steel mill city during and after World War II, saw many of its residents work for power plants, chemical plants and construction companies performing labor jobs that posed a high risk for asbestos exposure.
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In addition, Maryland courts are considered favorable to plaintiffs in civil actions, even in mass tort cases like asbestos litigation. Although state lawmakers created an inactive docket for asbestos cases in which plaintiffs do not have enough merit to file a claim, the process is streamlined to help valid cases move through the court system.
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Shipyard employees, construction workers, steel mill workers, foundry workers and sheet metal workers are among the occupations at risk for asbestos exposure in Maryland. In 1983, Maryland was the first state in the country to pass requirements for abatement contractors or demolition contractors involving asbestos. Training and licensing are part of the standards, which lawmakers have not updated significantly since 1990. Occupations at risk include:
Maryland is home to one of the country’s top cancer centers, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Not only is the hospital a hub for research for almost every type of cancer, it is also one of a few treatment facilities that specializes in mesothelioma treatment. About 5 percent of the patients of the hospital’s Lung and Esophageal Cancer Program have an asbestos-related disease.
Shipyards are part of the state fabric of Maryland, but they unfortunately posed a serious risk of asbestos exposure to workers. Contractors who supplied parts to the U.S. Navy and built vessels used asbestos materials during the World War II era. Boilers and pipes were wrapped with asbestos lagging or covered in asbestos-containing paint to minimize heat. Almost all the insulation on a ship contained asbestos. The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard and Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock are two yards that exposed workers to asbestos.
At the Curtis Bay yard, asbestos was confirmed in Fleet Hall, a barracks that was constructed with asbestos shingles on its roof. The yard's salvage lot was an active scrap metal yard since the 1940s and was also used for dumping asbestos debris.
In addition, a burn pit near the salvage lot was active from the late 1940s through 1963, and thats where used batteries, oil, scrap metal, liquids and asbestos-containing materials were disposed of or incinerated. Areas around both sites were used as dumping grounds, and officials fear asbestos materials were disposed of there as well.
The Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard was designated a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008, although asbestos was a minor part of that designation.
At Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock, workers who used asbestos-containing parts from Garlock later won lawsuits against the company after they developed asbestos-related illnesses. One plaintiff was Paul J. Wilson, an electrician whose work history included stints at Bethlehem Steel's Key Highway Shipyard and Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock.
For years, Maryland has been known as a wasteland for civil lawsuits. The state's court system was one of the nation's annual leaders in inactive dockets. Courts in Baltimore were assigned all of the state's asbestos cases, and a significant number of them sat and sat. The cases that sat often involved plaintiffs with a proven history of asbestos exposure, but they had yet to develop physical impairment because of a related disease.
Maryland courts see many asbestos lawsuits because the states industrial and transportation industries exposed many residents to asbestos products. In an effort to serve the sickest plaintiffs first, Baltimore was one of the first jurisdictions to create an active and inactive asbestos docket. The sickest plaintiffs go on the active docket and plaintiffs who arent impaired go on the inactive docket.
Maryland does have a statutory cap on non-economic damages, although it is not retroactive and does not apply in lawsuits that prove exposure to asbestos prior to the enactment of the cap. This cap varies in value depending upon the year the injury was discovered.
Maryland courts have ruled in favor of those who claim they developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses as a result of secondary exposure to asbestos. Sometimes called take-home exposure, secondary exposure happens when someone occupationally exposed to asbestos unintentionally brings home asbestos fibers on their work clothes, leading to exposure among people they live with or see frequently. Lawsuits for secondary asbestos exposure are not as common as occupational exposure lawsuits, but some have resulted in beneficial verdicts for plaintiffs.
Georgia-Pacific Corp. v. Pransky: The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a 2002 case in which a woman was awarded $9 million by a jury. The woman got mesothelioma from exposure to an asbestos joint compound that her father used to make repairs to their home basement.
Grimshaw v. Anchor Packing: A woman was awarded $3.21 million after she testified she developed an asbestos-related disease from asbestos fibers carried home on her stepfather's clothes.
Grewe v. Ford Motor Co.: A Baltimore jury awarded $8,069,934 to the family of former automobile mechanic Keith Grewe following his death from mesothelioma in 1993 at the age of 55. Grewe worked at Foreign Motors for 36 years, routinely repairing and replacing brakes and clutches, parts that Ford Motor Co. acknowledged contained asbestos. Ford lost its appeal, in which it argued Grewe was previously exposed to asbestos as a sheet metal worker in the mid-1950s and while working with asbestos-containing joint compound in the mid- and late 1960s as a home remodeler.
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