Heavy smoking, asbestos exposure 'synergistically' causes lung cancer, suit says

By David Yates | Oct 2, 2007

Bryan Blevins

At the request of Provost Umphrey attorney Bryan Blevins, the Texas Occupational Medicine Institute reviewed Clothilde DeJean's medical records and concluded Dejean's "heavy smoking history" combined with asbestos exposure "synergistically" caused her cancer.

DeJean, 77, was allegedly exposed to asbestos while laundering her husband's clothing. She has already sued and received a claim for her asbestos injury, but is suing again for a "different malignant asbestos-related injury."

Acting on DeJean's behalf, Blevins filed suit with the Jefferson County District Court on Sept. 28 against the A.O. Smith Corp. and 43 other corporations, claiming the companies knowingly and maliciously manufactured and distributed asbestos-containing products throughout the county.

The plaintiff's original petition says the 44 defendants entangled in the lawsuit were negligent for failing to adequately test their asbestos-laced products before flooding the market with dangerous goods and warn the consumer of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Some of the defendants listed in the suit include aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Viacom and iron supplier Zurn Industries.

According to the medical documents attached to the suit, DeJean's husband was an operator at the Texaco refinery for many years. She was indirectly exposed to asbestos while laundering her husband's clothing and rags from 1945 to 1980.

The documents also note DeJean was exposed to asbestos while working as a custodian at a Mid County school, "which later underwent asbestos abatement."

DeJean, who suffered from diabetes, hyperlipidemia and heart disease, had a "heavy smoking history, the medical documents stated.

"Tobacco is a human carcinogen that significantly increases the risk of lung cancer," the suit said. "Asbestos is also a well-recognized human carcinogen, which acts synergistically with tobacco in increasing the risk for lung cancer. In this case, Ms. Dejean has radiographic evidence of asbestos exposure in the form of asbestos-related pleural disease and pulmonary asbestosis.

"Given the clinical diagnosis of asbestosis, it is my (Dr. Steven Haber) opinion that asbestos played a role in the cause of Ms. Dejean's lung cancer. Based upon the records I have reviewed, it is my opinion that asbestos acted in synergy with tobacco in causing this cancer. My opinions are to a reasonable degree of medical probability."

Although DeJean has sued and already received for her asbestos-related injury, the suit says, "Plaintiff now suffers from a different malignant asbestos-related injury… and seeks damages against defendants not released in the previous actions pursuant to Pustejovsky v. Rapid-American Corp."

"The court must apply a separate accrual rule in these cases because a single action rule would forbid a second suit and in doing so force the asbestos plaintiff to file premature litigation on speculative claims, which the court in Pustejovsky notes is neither efficient or desirable," the suit said.

In addition, the petition faults Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Corp. (3M Corporation) and American Optical Corp. for producing defective masks that failed to "provide respiratory protection."

The plaintiff is suing for physical pain and suffering in the past and future, mental anguish in the past and future, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, disfigurement in the past and future, physical impairment in the past and future, and past and future medical expenses.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd Judicial District, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E180-428

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