Union Carbide Corporation v. Nix – Third-Party Liability for Work Illness

In South Carolina, the legislature structured workers’ compensation to serve as an “exclusive remedy” for workers who are hurt or become ill as a result of job-related actions.
Workers’ compensation lawyers in Anderson want clients to understand this means that if you suffer an illness caused by your job, and your employer carries coverage, you cannot sue your employer. However, you are entitled to the workers’ compensation benefits, so long as you show your sickness was caused by work.

In many ways, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both sides. It avoids the strain of litigation and it ensures workers don’t have to put up a fight for financial survival every time they are hurt trying to earn a living – as roughly a quarter will be.

All this said, there are some instances in which third-party liability may be appropriate, particularly when a person’s work-related illness is so severe (or even deadly) that workers’ compensation coverage is not adequate to defray the costs shouldered by the worker and his family.

Some of the cases where we believe this makes the most sense is in situations where employees (usually since retired) are diagnosed with asbestos-related illness. Diseases caused by asbestos do not manifest until many years, usually decades, after contact has been made.

Asbestos is a highly-cancerous material that was widely use for industrial and construction materials in a broad range of industries throughout the U.S. for most of the 20th Century. While it’s still not technically banned, its use has dramatically fallen since the 1980s.

However, many of those who worked with the material over the last 50 years are being diagnosed with conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Just because the injury occurred many years ago does not mean the injury is not compensable, though the process may be a bit more complex. But just like any other workers’ compensation claim, it will require extensive medical documentation, expert witness testimony, etc.

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, there is a possibility your loved ones may be able to collect workers’ compensation death benefits after you pass.

The details will depend on each individual case.

In the recent case of Union Carbide Corporation v. Nix, the plaintiff sought third-party liability compensation from the maker of asbestos-containing products, which he routinely used in his work as a mud driller.

According to Mississippi Supreme Court records, the plaintiff’s employer routinely used two products in order to help the mud maintain viscosity during drilling. One called Visbestos and another Super Visbestos. Both products contained 99 percent asbestos.

The plaintiff, in the course of his work from 1980 to 1986, worked with these products nearly every day for several hours day, frequently kicking up plumes of asbestos dust. The fibers are deadly when they become inhaled.

When he later was retired and diagnosed with mesothelioma, the workers’ compensation benefits were not enough to cover the extensive costs incurred for the treatments he required for the terminal cancer.

Following a lengthy trial, the plaintiff was awarded $1 million in damages – half in compensatory, half in punitive – and another $500,000 for attorneys’ fees.

Later, upon appeal from the defendant, the compensatory award was halved, and a new trial was ordered on the issue of punitive damages.

Still, even the $250,000 was more than what he likely would have received in solely pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.

It’s important in these cases to hire an attorney who can advise you on the best course of action for your situation.

If you have suffered a work-related illness, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Union Carbide Corporation v. Nix, June 5, 2014, Mississippi Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Carter v. Verizon Wireless – Ongoing Coverage for Worker’s Knee Injury at Issue, June 3, 2014, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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