New asbestos/silicosis suits may be interchangeable
Robert B. Ramsey
Despite medical evidence that refutes dual silicosis and asbestosis diagnoses, and in spite of the fact there has been a steady clinical decline of silicosis cases in the past 30 years because of U.S. work safety standards, asbestos attorneys across the nation have recently branched into silicosis litigation.
So what is the difference between a silicosis and asbestosis lawsuit?
In Madison County, perhaps not out of the reach of a federal judge in Texas who leveled sanctioned against attorneys for "retreading" old asbestosis clients as silicosis plaintiffs, there may be no difference.
The 172 lung disease lawsuits that Texas attorney Brent Coon brought to Madison County in September would make silicosis and asbestosis interchangeable.
For 12 plaintiffs, Coon filed simultaneous asbestosis and silicosis suits.
For 128 plaintiffs Coon filed asbestos suits that also allege silica exposure. These suits do not claim silicosis damages, but they lay a foundation for it.
Coon's asbestos complaints refer to silica eight times before setting forth the first count.
At the end of the complaints, attorney Coon mixes the minerals completely, accusing defendants of "failing to properly test said silica-containing products and/or machinery requiring or calling for the use of asbestos and/or asbestos-containing products."
Attorney Robert B. Ramsey of Brentwood, Mo., signed the complaints. Ramsey opened a St. Louis office for Coon two months ago, in August.
Ramsey previously practiced with Blunt and Associates of Edwardsville, and with Pratt and Tobin of East Alton.
Coon runs his firm at Beaumont, Texas. Three other attorneys practice there, according to his website, plus nine others in Texas, six in Cleveland, three in New Orleans, two in Jackson, Mississippi, two in San Francisco, and Ramsey in St. Louis.
About the plaintiffs
Among all the plaintiffs that Coon brings to the courthouse, not one possesses a middle initial - for the record, at least. The complaints offer first and last names only.
Each of the complaints available at the courthouse states that the plaintiff resides in Illinois. Each identifies an occupation and the years the plaintiff worked in Illinois.
About half the complaints were unavailable due to a strike of county workers.
Further facts about the plaintiffs do not come easily. The list carries names that one could find anywhere in Illinois, like Jim Williams, Larry Neal and Donald Anderson.
By connection or coincidence, two names appear on the roster of a Chicago law firm. Two appear as authors in the same issue of a scholarly journal on minerals. Two odd names pop up on the faculty of a university.
First names aside, some distinctive last names amount to a short course in the history of personal injury law.
Harry Piwowar shares the name of a person whose workers compensation case governs Oregon employers in specifying the injuries for which they accept responsibility.
Frank Squeo shares the name of a person whose workers compensation case governs New Jersey employers in accommodating disabilities.
Willie Pickett shares the name of a person whose U.S. Supreme Court case governs recovery from new corporations created as successors of former corporations.
Donald Mascarella shares the name of a plaintiff in the World Trade Center litigation.
While advocates discount the difference between silicosis and asbestosis, there is a difference between the minerals that cause the diseases.
Silica is sand with a high percentage of quartzite, or silicon dioxide. Quartzite increases the value of sand for glass making and other industrial uses.
Mining firms extract quartzite sand where nature provides it, or they manufacture it by crushing and grinding quartzite rock.
Asbestos is a fireproof mineral of silicon, oxygen, calcium and magnesium. Mining firms extract it where nature provides it.