Truth vs. Hope: What to Tell Asbestos Victims

Written by: Michael Shepard

As someone who has represented victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis over the past two decades, I have witnessed hundreds of clients succumb to terrible diseases. Often times, when meeting a new client, usually in their home, I am asked questions about the disease they have been diagnosed with. Most people pay no attention to the word mesothelioma, but when a doctor tells you that you have it, you want to learn everything you can about it. Given my experience with mesothelioma victims, my clients naturally want to know how their situation compares to others with that disease. The answer is not an easy one.

When someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of their first questions inevitably involves whether they can be cured. The next question is usually how long they have to live. Mesothelioma is a terminal disease, meaning that there is no known cure and the cancer will likely progress to the point where it eventually takes your life. Between those dates is a span of time that every patient wants to know, but no one can accurately predict. While the average survival of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is six to eighteen months, it can vary greatly depending on multiple factors. Despite looking for a pattern over the years, I still have no idea how long a mesothelioma victim might survive. I have seen clients who have died within three weeks, and clients who have lived more than five years. Age doesn’t seem to be a determining factor, although younger, otherwise healthy mesothelioma clients have as good a chance as anyone. Even so, I have seen victims as young as twenty-one years old succumb to this terrible cancer within a year from diagnosis. I have also seen victims ninety years and older live for three years.

Despite all the advances in medicine and chemotherapy in the past twenty years, science doesn’t seem to be any closer to determining why certain people get mesothelioma and others don’t, much less finding a cure for this disease. It is well established, and beyond debate by anyone other than a lawyer or expert representing asbestos defendants or interests, that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos. What we don’t know is why two people, working side-by-side around asbestos for twenty years or more, can have such different reactions to asbestos exposure, where one develops mesothelioma while the other does not. When it comes to mesothelioma, there are more questions than there are answers.

This uncertainty is why it is so difficult to talk to new clients about their future. The client is desperate for information, for optimism, for hope. Depending on the bedside manner of the doctors involved, the client may not have been given any answers to those questions. Early in my career, I was frustrated that my clients were not given information about their survival prospects. I went so far as to seek out the advice of cancer doctors, including one who was also an ordained minister. What I came to learn is that doctors have to tread the same delicate path that I had been navigating. On the one hand, doctors feel they owe the patient the courtesy of explaining the disease and its prognosis in plain, frank terms so the patient and his family aren’t misled into thinking that things were going to work out fine in the end. On the other hand, the mind has tremendous control over the body’s ability to fight off disease. If you take away a person’s hope, their will to fight, you all but guarantee that they will not survive long. So how then, do you handle those questions?

I have chosen a middle ground. I ask my clients what their doctors have told them. I ask a lot of questions about their doctor’s visits, their discussions with the doctors, their discussions with their spouse and family members. Based on the answers I hear, I am usually able to determine how much information has been given to them. If they are well informed, and seem to be able to discuss their prognosis candidly, I am more open in the information I provide. If, however, it seems that they either haven’t been given very clear information, or that they aren’t accepting of the information they have been given, I am much more guarded with my comments. I don’t want to take away whatever optimism or hope is helping my client handle the awful struggle with cancer. Regardless of how much information I share, I always offer an empathetic ear and a solemn promise to do what I can to help. Most often, I find that my clients are happy to know that someone is looking out for their needs, and for the financial needs of their spouse moving forward. Ultimately, it is all I can do for them, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

I don’t know if my approach is right or wrong, but I suspect that it depends on the situation and it depends on the person. When faced with the sudden and unexpected diagnosis of mesothelioma, would you want the truth, or would you prefer hope?

The Truth Behind Lawyer Television Advertising & Mesothelioma

Written by: Shepard Law Firm Staff

It seems you can’t turn on the television in the afternoon or evening these days without seeing an ad like this one targeting the victims of mesothelioma:

Mesothelioma Ad

Ads like this also convey the idea that there are hundreds, even thousands of law firms across the country representing mesothelioma victims. Yet, both of those assumptions are false.

So why do we continue to see so many misleading commercials?
Even savvy television viewers may be surprised to learn how much time, money and actual scientific research goes into developing these seemingly unpolished commercials. The reasons are as unsettling as the ads themselves. Why? Because of referral fees. Most of those advertisers are law firms or advertising groups that are simply going to refer your case to a lawyer who actually practices mesothelioma litigation, in exchange for a percentage of the fee that the second lawyer earns on the case. Good for the advertising law firm’s bottom line, but not so much for the victims and their families. The truth is, mesothelioma cases are highly specialized and require attorneys with very specific legal experience and access to significant medical and scientific resources.

Two secrets that these commercials don’t want you to know.
Secret #1: I’m not a lawyer, I just play one on T.V.
Did you know that the lawyer or law firm that is doing the advertising may not actually practice the type of litigation that is being advertised? I see this all the time in the context of mesothelioma, because in reality there are a limited number of law firms around the country that actually represent people in mesothelioma litigation.

In the past twenty-plus years of representing mesothelioma victims, I have come to know every law firm in the country that does what we do. It is a very small group, partly due to the immense amount of information and expertise that is needed to successfully handle mesothelioma cases, and partly because there just aren’t that many new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year.

Secret #2: Just like with real estate it comes down to location, location, location.
Television and internet marketing are not limited in the geographic scope of the advertisement. The advertisers may be located anywhere, from Texas to California, Florida to New York. This begs the questions:

Do they know the rules of your state?
Do they know the court system in your state?
Do they know the job sites where you worked or the cities and towns in which you lived?
Of course they don’t. The advertiser will try to sound convincing when confronted with the question, “Are you going to be the one handling my case in court?” But in most instances, the advertising lawyer or group has never actually litigated a mesothelioma case, and wouldn’t know where to begin if they had to. They are going to have to find a lawyer in your state who can represent you, someone who knows the local area and the local court rules, someone who can locate documents and witnesses in your area to help build your case. But which local lawyer are they going to send the case to, is that lawyer right for you and will that lawyer do a good job? How much experience does that lawyer have with mesothelioma litigation? When you call a toll-free number from a television ad, you might be surprised to find out that the answers to these questions are not the right answers for you.

When I say that Shepard Law represents victims of mesothelioma, I mean that we actually file the lawsuit, do the discovery, take and defend depositions, make and defend motions, and appear in court. We are with you from day one through the end of the case. The vast majority of lawyers advertising as “mesothelioma lawyers” can’t say the same.

Calling the number on the television may seem simple and convenient, especially if you are already struggling with the very real emotional, financial and physical challenges that often accompany mesothelioma. But if you put in the time to find a lawyer in your area, you are more likely to end up with someone who is going to have a vested interest in you and your case, and will deliver the result you were looking for.

If you or a loved one has mesothelioma and would like to learn more about your rights please call us for free, confidential consultation at (617) 451-9191.

National Healthy School Day: Are our school buildings “healthy”?

Written by: Shepard Law Firm Staff

National Healthy School Day was created as a way to call attention to the many health issues facing America’s student population. While much attention is understandably given to the people and activities going on in our schools, we should not forget to examine the health of the buildings themselves. When we drop our kids off at school in the morning, or walk the halls on our way to a school concert, play or game, how often do we notice the building? We notice the colorful signs and posters that alert us to the activities going on, but we seldom take notice of the building itself, and with good reason. Schools are typically drab, uninteresting buildings, brought to life by their inhabitants and purpose, rather than their architecture or design. But what if the building itself posed a health risk? What if the school wasn’t “healthy”?

Asbestos was used in thousands of building products through the 1970s, and in a significant amount of products in the 1980s. Those asbestos products were used in the construction of offices, stores, homes—and schools. Any school built in the 1970s and earlier was likely constructed with at least some products that contained asbestos. Asbestos was used in joint compound, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, gaskets, packing, fireproofing spray and other building products. Shepard Law has represented construction workers who were exposed to asbestos during construction of schools, as well as custodians who were exposed while buffing vinyl asbestos flooring and maintaining equipment in boiler rooms. But do those potential exposures still exist in our schools today? The answer might surprise you.

In 1986, Congress passed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). Among other things, AHERA required schools to investigate their buildings for the presence of asbestos, document its location, and remediate any asbestos that had the potential to become airborne or respirable. Largely due to AHERA, asbestos materials have been abated from most school buildings. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there anymore. Abatement can take many forms, from complete removal to encapsulation. Encapsulation involves sealing the asbestos in place, so that it cannot be disturbed and made airborne, preventing the dangerous fibers from being inhaled by anyone in the building. Although encapsulation solves the immediate problem, the root of the problem is still lurking behind the walls, above the ceiling grid, or under foot.

The so-called “next wave of asbestos exposure” is this asbestos that lurks in buildings that were constructed during the heyday of asbestos products use. Experts predict that the mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer cases we see in the next 20-40 years will be caused largely by asbestos that is currently hidden in office towers, factories, industrial buildings, homes and schools. When those buildings are renovated or torn down, there is the risk of asbestos exposures unless care is taken to properly remove and dispose of the asbestos.

Despite the efforts to identify and abate asbestos in schools over the past thirty years, there are still instances where asbestos is unexpectedly encountered and released. For example, in 2013, a group of students renovating a room at The Buckeye Education School, as part of a school project, unwittingly tore up asbestos-containing flooring. See the article here.

Luckily, stories like this one are the exception, not the rule. Most schools are perfectly safe for everyday use by teachers, students and administrators. But until a school is completely stripped of all asbestos materials, careful attention must be paid to renovation and repair work. Hopefully this will ensure that the next wave of mesothelioma does not include our most precious resource—our children.

Mesothelioma Lung Cancer

What You May Not Know About Lung Cancer

Written by: Shepard Law Firm Staff

November is lung cancer awareness month and with good reason. According to the American Lung Association, “Lung cancer causes more deaths than colorectal, breast and prostate cancers combined. An estimated 158,040 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2015, accounting for approximately 27 percent of all cancer deaths.”

What causes lung cancer?
Most people know that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer and if you’re a man the risk is even higher. In a recent study conducted by the US Surgeon General, it was reported that that male smokers are twenty-five times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smoking males. Many of us also know that occupational exposure to asbestos is another risk factor that increases your chances of developing lung cancer. However, the general public is not as aware of the synergetic effect that occurs when smoking and exposure to asbestos are combined. For these individual, the risk of developing lung cancer doesn’t just increase – it multiples.

Combining smoking and asbestos exposure multiplies risk
For reasons that are not yet completely understood, asbestos poses a greater risk for lung cancer in individuals who smoke cigarettes. It is generally accepted that smoking and asbestos exposure have a synergistic effect. This means that smoking and asbestos combines in the lungs in a way that multiplies the risks that either would have on its own, although studies differ as to the extent of the multiplying effect.

This multiplying of risks is of great significance because the vast majority of individuals who worked with or around asbestos-containing products were also smokers. Consider the occupations that are most often associated with asbestos exposure:

  • Shipyard workers
  • Navy veterans, particular those who worked in the engine and boiler rooms
  • Insulators, pipecoverers and laggers
  • Pipefitters and plumbers
  • Boilermakers
  • Machinists and millwrights
  • Plasterers and drywall installers
  • Auto mechanics

Men who worked in these occupations were extremely likely to have smoked. In over twenty years of representing victims of asbestos exposure, I can count on two hands the number of lung cancer cases where my client was a lifelong non-smoker and we can understand why. These trades occurred in environments where smoking was not only allowed, it was socially encouraged. Most construction crews were given smoking breaks during the day.

“I have had clients tell me that they weren’t really interested in smoking, but they started doing it because they didn’t want to be left out of the smoking breaks that their buddies were allowed to take.”
—Mike Shepard

US military veterans were practically told to smoke – until 1975 cigarettes were included in K-rations and C-rations. A machinist mate in the United States Navy worked in an engine room that was loaded with asbestos insulation, gaskets and packing, while regularly smoking cigarettes. It is no wonder that so many of my clients are former Navy firemen, machinist mates, electricians and the like. They spent their working hours in a windowless compartment surrounded by boilers, turbines, pumps, valves and a multitude of other equipment that incorporated asbestos insulation, gaskets and packing. That equipment was in constant need of service and repair, creating daily exposures to asbestos. All the while, these veterans were smoking cigarettes as a way to deal with the stress and monotony of life on board a Navy ship. Now, decades later, those two carcinogens have combined in their lungs to cause cancer.

What can you do?
Throughout this month please join us – advocates, survivors, caregivers and family members – as we show support for the lung cancer community and recognize the toll that both smoking and exposure to asbestos has taken, and continues to take, on the men and women who built this country and the service men and women who have protected it.

We want you to know your rights. If you or a loved one suffers from Mesothelioma or lung cancer, call for information on how we can help. Time is of the essence, so call us today (617) 451-9191.