Individuals who were employed at the former Hercules plant in Hattiesburg before 1981 and have been diagnosed with various cancers are now entitled to special financial benefits from multiple private trusts established by the manufacturers of asbestos products.
Representatives from Norris Injury Lawyers of Birmingham, Alabama, recently announced a specific initiative to assist plant workers who may have gotten cancer – including lung cancer, esophageal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, stomach cancer, rectal cancer, colon cancer and mesothelioma – because of asbestos exposure at the plant. Robert Norris, founding partner at the law firm, said asbestos-laced products were used for years at plants like Hercules with neither employees nor management being aware of the risk of the material.
“The people that manufactured and marketed asbestos-related products knew about the dangers about asbestos, but never told anybody,” Norris said. “They didn’t tell the companies they were selling the products to … hence the companies couldn’t tell their employees.
“They didn’t give them respirators, they didn’t put scrubbers on any of their smokestacks, they didn’t put any type of sealants on any of their insulations or anything. So, people were exposed, unwittingly, to tremendous amounts of asbestos, and after this had been going on for 20 or 30 years, people started getting sick.”
Cancer victims, or family members of deceased victims who worked at the plant before 1981, can call (800) 478-9578 for a free evaluation of their claim.
Additional information also is available at getnorris.com/asb.
The benefits come from funds established after federal bankruptcy courts required asbestos manufacturers to set aside hundreds of million dollars in private trusts to compensate victims. Eligible individuals can receive monetary damages from those trusts by filing timely, detailed and accurate claims.
“The first thing a lawyer would think of … is this happened 15, 20, 30, 40 years ago, and the statute of limitations had run out a long time ago,” Norris said. “And that would be true if these were lawsuits, but they’re not lawsuits.
“Not all, but many, of these (asbestos) companies said they’d go ahead and file bankruptcy, because they’ll have to pay the claims of people that are making claims now, but for future claims, they’ll file bankruptcy on that and be exempt. So, the courts made these companies put money into trusts for the people working there now that might not have the disease but might get it at a later date.”
Although there are millions of dollars left in those trusts, some of those funds will go to waste if affected individuals do not file claims.
“Nobody has to file a lawsuit, you don’t have to take depositions, there’s no travel,” Norris said. “We do have to get some doctor’s records; we have to get some expert witnesses in the form of doctors reading X-rays and things.
“But we’ve been doing this a number of years, and we send out hundreds of checks every month to people all over the country. If there’s a child who had one or both parents involved in a work environment where they got cancer and died, we can still file claims for them. We have to still get records and things, but by and large, we’re able to do that.”
In its natural state, asbestos is a harmless mineral; it becomes dangerous when it is pulled apart or ground into flexible fibers. At that point, if the mineral is inhaled or swallowed, microscopic asbestos fibers may be permanently affixed to body tissue, causing genetic changes over years that can lead to cancer.
“Different cancers have different (financial values); somebody with lung cancer, they’re going to get more money than somebody with esophageal cancer,” Norris said. “It depends, too, on where they worked or how many different places they worked.
“I’ve been practicing law for 40-plus years, and from my standpoint there is nothing more fun than giving somebody a check that they didn’t know they were going to get.”
The outcomes of any claims will not affect any pensions received by former employees.
“We’re not suing their employers; we’re not suing anybody or filing claims against their employers,” Norris said. “We’ve had some employees that put it in their retirees’ newsletters, that they’ve got claims they need filed.
“It’s no skin off the back of the employers; the employers were duped just like the workers were duped.”