Asbestos is the quintessential example of corporations knowing that they were marketing deadly products and covering up the evidence for profit. By the 1930s, asbestos manufacturers were aware that their workers were dying at alarming rates, yet they hid the dangers for more than half a century. For decades, millions of construction workers unknowingly used the dangerous material as insulation, for fire retardation and many other purposes without proper precautions.
Men and women with mesothelioma, a type of cancer that results from exposure to asbestos, suffer a terrible death. The tumors characteristic of this cruel disease grow and harden around their victims’ hearts, lungs and abdominal walls, leading to intense pain and eventual suffocation.
Most mesothelioma patients die within one or two years of diagnosis, but it is extraordinarily rare — only about 1 percent of cases — for symptoms to manifest any earlier than 15 years after exposure. Due to this disease’s long latency period, the median range is 30 to 45 years before the problem becomes apparent. Under current Illinois law, the vast majority of those individuals would never have an opportunity to receive compensation for the grievous harms done to them.
Legislation recently approved by the Illinois General Assembly, Senate Bill 2221, would remove the current 10-year limit to bring a case in response to what medical science now tells us about the typical prolonged course of this horrible disease. Science makes all of the wonders of the modern world possible — from cell phones, to satellites, to lifesaving health care technologies — and it is only logical that we would use the insights furnished by modern research to revise our laws so that they reflect current knowledge, rather than continue to rely on thinking that is decades out of date. The law should not be static in the face of new information.
There is nothing frivolous or improper about workers dying of asbestos exposure to want to hold accountable the companies whose negligence is responsible for their painful fates. Nor is there anything untoward about courts moving expeditiously to hear these cases. When victims of asbestos-related disease seek justice, time is of the essence. It has been more than three decades since asbestos was in wide commercial use and the number of people who may have suffered harm is dwindling. Unfortunately, many have passed away without the opportunity to pursue fair compensation for their injuries.
It is regrettable that corporations and construction firms that profited from using asbestos despite the known dangers to their employees prefer to spend millions of dollars on fact-free propaganda and fear campaigns rather than accept moral and financial responsibility for the human toll of their poor decisions.
Gov. Pat Quinn should sign Senate Bill 2221 into law and provide an opportunity to mesothelioma victims to pursue the justice they have been denied for too long.