Almost everyone in the United States has heard the word “asbestos” during the last 20 years. It is common knowledge that asbestos was used to make many products including insulation, roofing materials and other residential and commercial building products. However, it is less known that asbestos was also used in the oil field industry including on land rigs as well as offshore oil rigs. If you worked in the oil field on land or offshore, it is possible that you were previously exposed to asbestos. You should know the following information.
Asbestos is the term used to describe several naturally occurring minerals. These minerals have various geological names but together are commonly referred to as asbestos-type minerals. One common characteristic is that they all can produce very minute fibers which easily break apart and are disbursed throughout the air. It is these fibers that are typically inhaled into a worker’s lungs ultimately causing injury. An individual’s body cannot in any way process these fibers, and thus they remain in an individual’s body forever.
The oil field, both on land as well as off shore, began using asbestos products during the 1960s and continued through the mid to late 1980s. Asbestos products were used as additives in connection with the drilling mud used for offshore and on land drilling. Asbestos provided heat resistant properties as well as a cohesive property, or bonding agent, which was very beneficial when mixed with drilling mud. Several of these asbestos-related products were actually pure asbestos fibers which workers were required to mix directly into the drilling mud.
Asbestos-related medical problems include the well known cancer mesothelioma. This refers to a very specific asbestos-only related cancer which typically occurs in the lungs, abdomen, heart area or testicles. Asbestosis is the asbestos-related condition of having actual asbestos fibers contained within a person’s lungs. Lung cancer can sometimes be indirectly related to a person’s past asbestos exposure. It is medically documented that asbestos within a person’s lungs greatly increases the chance of that person suffering lung cancer. This is especially true with smokers who have previously been exposed to asbestos. Although these individuals may believe that their lung cancer is solely related to their past smoking history, in fact asbestos may have played a significant role in contributing to their lung cancer.
The good news for workers who were previously exposed to asbestos in the oil and gas industry is that maritime law and a federal law known as the Jones Act may provide relief for these workers if they worked offshore or on drilling barges on the water. Under maritime law and the Jones Act, claims can be filed directly against past employers for any asbestos-related exposure that a worker may have experienced while working for these past employers. This situation typically arises in regard to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and drilling barges which operated from the 1960s through the mid to late 1980s. Many of the workers on these oil rigs and drilling barges were exposed to asbestos and they may just be beginning to experience asbestos-related health problems because many asbestos-related health problems do not surface or “manifest” until decades after the worker’s exposure to asbestos.
It is important for any worker who has been exposed to asbestos and believes he may have suffered an asbestos-related injury to fully explore his legal remedies. If this worker previously worked offshore on jack-up or semi-submersible drilling rigs, he can pursue claims directly against his previous employer under the Jones Act and maritime law. This can be a very powerful remedy since many of the manufacturers of asbestos products have now gone into bankruptcy protection. Claims under the Jones Act and maritime law can be filed directly against past employers, many of which are still viable, available defendants.