Silicosis in Mississippi

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Silicosis is an occupational chronic lung disease caused by inhaling tiny silica grains. Silica is the second most common mineral in the earth’s crust and it is a part of sand, quartz and other rocks. Often people contract silicosis at jobs that involve construction, mining, drywall finishing, rock drilling, and sandblasting — about 2 million U.S. workers are occupationally exposed to silica dust.

About two million U.S. workers are estimated to be exposed to crystalline silica dust at their jobs. It can also be inhaled repeatedly in other settings, but workplaces are the most common source of silica dust. When the silica dust is inhaled, it causes fluid to build up and creates scar issue in the lungs that impedes someone’s ability to breath.

There are three kinds of silicosis: chronic silicosis after 10-plus years of exposure, accelerated silicosis after 5-10 years of exposure caused by exposure to higher levels, and acute silicosis after weeks or months of exposure of extremely high levels of crystalline silica. This last form of silicosis progresses quite rapidly and is fatal. In simple chronic silicosis, the lungs and chest lymph nodes swell, which makes breathing difficult. Accelerated silicosis causes faster swelling.

Silicosis increases the risk for infections and tuberculosis as well as progressive massive fibrosis and respiratory failure. Sometimes silicosis only appears 15-20 years after you are exposed and causes you to contract other illnesses as well. You may experience shortness of breath, fever, weight loss, chest pains and more. Your doctors can prescribe cough medicine, oxygen, and antibiotics and tell you to stay away from things that can irritate your lungs, such as pollution, smoke and allergens.

In a 2012 case, a Mississippi worker sued the company that supplied silica sand to his employer for failing to warn him of dangers posed by sandblasting. He sued under Mississippi’s product liability statute, claiming the product was defective and required warnings. The sand company defended itself on several grounds, including the sophisticated user doctrine.

At trial a doctor testified that national safety standards required sandblasters to wear air-fed hoods. The doctor concluded that the employer had to know of the dangers of sandblasting. The jury awarded the worker $3 million in punitive damages, finding the sand company 60% a fault. Because the company was insolvent, the judge reduced the punitive damages award to $0. He also applied the statutory damages cap and reduced noneconomic damages to $1million.

The sand company appealed, arguing that the court should have instructed the jury in the sophisticated user defense. This defense removes liability from the seller for failure to warn of dangers the user is already aware of. It applies when (1) the injured user is aware of he product hazards or where an intermediate purchaser is knowledgeable but the injured end user (such as an employee) is ignorant of them.
The appellate court found the company submitted a flawed jury instruction on the sophisticated-user defense, but the trial judge should have reformed it. The case was sent back for a new trial.

If you develop silicosis an experienced Mississippi personal injury attorney can look at the particular facts of your case to determine whether you can recover from a product manufacturer, your employer or another party for your injuries. The knowledgeable Mississippi personal injury attorneys of Coxwell & Associates may be able to help.

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Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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