CSOA's Knowledge Network

Ohio mesothelioma victim awarded $27.5 million.

medical-gavelJohn Panza Jr. of Cleveland Heights, Ohio,a 40 year-old English professor at Cuyahoga Community College, was diagnosed in 2012 with mesothelioma. Panza acquired the cancer after years of second-hand exposure to clothing worn by his father, who picked up the asbestos dust at his job at the Eaton Airflex brake company. After 31 years working at Airflex, Panza’s father died of lung cancer in 1994.

Asbestos brake pads at Airflex were manufactured by the former National Friction Products Corp. Kelsey-Hayes Co. is the successor to National Friction Products. John Jr. and his wife Jane sued Kelsey-Hayes.

Following an 11-day trial, a jury has returned a verdict in favor of the Panzas, awarding John Panza $515,000 in economic damages and $12 million in non-economic damages. The jury awarded his wife, Jane, 37, $15 million for the deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to her husband’s disease.

The jury attributed 60 percent of the liability to Kelsey-Hayes, finding that the company’s brake products were defective and primarily responsible for causing Panza’s cancer. The jury placed 40 percent of the liability on Eaton Airflex, which was immune to the lawsuit under Ohio law. Kelsey-Hayes is liable for the entire damages award. The company is expected to appeal.

Asbestosis Defined:

Asbestos is a natural mineral products that is resistant to heat and corrosion. It was used extensively in the past in products such as insulation, cement, floor tiles and brake pads.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.  Prolonged exposure to high levels of asbestos dust over a long period of time can lead to airborne fibers becoming lodged within the alveoli (tiny sacs) in the lungs, which is where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood occur. The asbestos fibers irritate and scar the lung tissue, causing the lungs to become stiff which makes breathing difficult. Eventually, the lung tissue becomes so stiff that it cannot contract and expand normally.

Asbestosis symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually don't appear until many years after continued exposure. The effects of long-term exposure to asbestos typically do not show up for 10 to 40 years after initial exposure. Smoking cigarettes appears to increase the retention of asbestos fibers in the lungs, often resulting in a faster progression of the disease.

Most people with asbestosis acquired it on the job before the federal government began regulating the use of asbestos and asbestos products. Today, its handling is strictly regulated. Treatment of asbestosis focuses on relieving the symptoms. Signs and symptoms can include: shortness of breath; a persistent, dry cough; loss of appetite with weight loss; fingertips and toes that appear wider and rounder than normal (clubbing); and/or chest tightness or pain. A diagnosis of asbestosis contributes to an increased risk of cancer, especially in conjunction with smoking or having a history of smoking.

Mesothelioma Defined:

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare but serious type of cancer, which occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of internal organs.  Mesothelioma most often affects the tissues that surrounds the lungs (pleura), which is known as pleural malignant mesothelioma. The majority of  people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma are those who have worked on jobs where inhalation of asbestos particles occurred over a long period of time.

Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath; painful coughing; pain under the rib cage; unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on the chest; and/or unexplained weight loss. As pleural mesothelioma spreads in the chest, it puts pressure on the structures in that area which can cause complications such as difficulty breathing; chest pain; difficulty swallowing; swelling of the neck and face caused by pressure on the large vein that leads from the upper body to the heart (superior vena cava syndrome); pain caused by the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord; and/or accumulation of fluid in the chest (pleural effusion), which can compress the lung nearby and make breathing difficult.

Whose at Risk?

Someone with a personal history of asbestos exposure.  Someone who worked in mining, milling, manufacturing, installation or removal of asbestos products before the late 1970s are at increased risk of asbestosis, which may include:

  • Aircraft and auto mechanics
  • Asbestos miners
  • Boiler operators
  • Construction workers
  • Electricians
  • Railroad workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings

Someone living with a worker that is personally exposed to asbestos. Exposed individuals may carry the fibers home on their skin and clothing. Exposure to these stray fibers over many years can put others in the home at risk of mesothelioma.

Generally there is no cause for concern as long as the asbestos is enclosed and undisturbed. When the materials containing asbestos are damaged, potentially releasing asbestos fibers into the air, special safety measures are required. However, asbestosis typically occurs  after a prolonged exposure to the airborne asbestos fibers.


March1HeadShot.12.31.12Lori Greenhill RN BSN, the CEO of Concierge Services/Nurses of Augusta, is a legal nurse consultant assisting attorneys who handle medical malpractice and personal injury cases. She serves as the President for the Greater Augusta Chapter of the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) and is also the VP of the BNI-RPH Chapter. Lori firmly believes in "Givers Gain" by utilizing her experience to help nurses, healthcare, and businesses professionals to grow their businesses.

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