What is Silica?
Crystalline silica is a common mineral. It makes up a large part of sand and rocks like granite and sandstone, and it's used to manufacture everyday, ordinary products like tiles, concrete, and clay bricks. Silica dust is created when silica-containing rocks and building materials are cut or disturbed in a way that allows fine particles of silica dust to escape into the air.
An unknown amount of crystalline silica has been disturbed in mining, construction, and other activities, making it possible for millions of people to inhale silica dust. Inhaling silica dust, above Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits, can lead to a serious respiratory disease called silicosis.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is an irreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust into the lungs. As the oldest known occupational lung disease, silicosis had several names before it was finally identified and named, including stonemason's disease, dust consumption, potter's rot, grinder's rot, and rock tuberculosis.
The disease belongs to a group of lung disorders called pneumoconiosis. It's marked by the formation of "nodules" or lumps and fibrous scar tissue in the lungs. Individuals who develop silicosis have a higher risk of developing other serious conditions and diseases, including tuberculosis and lung cancer. The disease has no cure, and more than 250 Americans die from silicosis each year.
What Causes Silicosis?
Silicosis is caused by exposure to inhaled particles of silica. Because its development is directly associated with exposure to silica dust, it can be prevented with the use of respirators and other equipment designed to keep silica dust from entering the lungs. OSHA claims that, with properly working protective equipment, silicosis is 100% preventable.
Who is At Risk for Developing Silicosis?
At least 1.7 million American workers are employed in "at risk jobs" for developing silicosis. An at risk job is a job that increases a worker's risk of developing a work-related illness.
Workers who are at risk for developing silicosis include:
- Foundry workers
- Potters and ceramics workers
- Rock drillers
- Tunnel workers
Bystanders are also at risk, since anyone who inhales silica dust from materials containing crystalline silica are at risk of developing silicosis.
What are the Symptoms of Silicosis?
The symptoms of silicosis are:
- Chronic dry cough
- Shortness of breath with exercise
Additional symptoms that are usually associated with acute silicosis, include:
- Loss of appetite/weight loss
- Severe breathing difficulty
Why are Silicosis Sufferers Entitled to Compensation?
OSHA and other regulatory entities have established standards that job sites must follow to prevent silica exposure. Silicosis frequently results from the failure to follow these well-established safeguards.
If a worker develops silicosis because his employer did not provide sufficient safety equipment or warnings about exposure to silica dust, he may be able to bring a workers' compensation claim and hold his employer liable for his injury.
If the worker develops silicosis because a silica-based product he used in his work, such as sandblasting compounds, did not meet industry or government safety standards, he may be able to bring a product liability claim and hold the manufacturer liable for his injury. Other product liability lawsuits may claim that the manufacturer's equipment, such as mining equipment, did not perform adequately and therefore resulted in the worker's exposure to silica dust.
If the worker proves his employer or the manufacturer caused his exposure to silica dust, he will be entitled to a cash award to help defray the costs of his medical treatment and to make up for his lost wages. The worker may also be entitled to punitive damages to punish the employer or manufacturer for their conduct.
Who Can File a Silicosis Lawsuit?
Anyone who has developed silicosis through exposure to silica dust can file a silicosis lawsuit. A family member can file suit if the silicosis sufferer has passed away, as can the executor of the worker's estate.
How Do I File a Silicosis Claim?
If you want to file a lawsuit, you should find a products liability lawyer or workers' compensation lawyer as soon as possible after being diagnosed with silicosis. This is very important because each state has a time limit, called a statute of limitations, restricting how long you have to file your silicosis claim. The time limit varies from state to state. But if you wait too long, you may be barred from taking legal action.
You should look for a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with silicosis lawsuits. You'll want someone with proven experience in the field, someone who will have the resources and contacts to deal with your case quickly and efficiently. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you about your options, including whether you should file an individual lawsuit or opt for a class action. Your lawyer may be able to advise you about your chances of success and give you an idea of how much compensation you can reasonably hope to recover.
Once you find a lawyer, you should make an appointment to discuss your options. You'll need to provide details about where and when you were exposed to silica dust so that your lawyer can identify the appropriate employer or company to name in your lawsuit.
The more information you provide your lawyer, the better chance he or she will have of preparing a solid silicosis case for you. As your case develops, your lawyer will be able to advise you about accepting an out-of-court settlement, if one is offered, or if you should go to trial.