If you have been diagnosed with leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, MDS or another blood disease that you suspect was caused by benzene, solvents or related toxic chemicals, you probably have many questions about your legal rights. At Allen Stewart, P.C., we have helped many people in the same position you find yourself today. Through the years we’ve been asked many questions by new and prospective clients about the legal process. The answers to some of the most common questions are provided here.
Of course, if you do not here see the answer to one of your questions or would like to discuss your potential benzene lawsuit with us, the attorneys at Allen Stewart, P.C. are available to speak with you, at no cost or obligation to you. Call 866-440-2460 or fill out our secure form. One of our attorneys would be pleased to offer you prompt, personal, and confidential service.
What is benzene and why is it a problem?
Benzene is a colorless, liquid chemical compound with an aromatic, “sweet” odor that evaporates quickly when exposed to the air. Benzene is one of the 20 most commonly used chemicals in the United States today. Although the federal government banned the use of benzene in its pure form as a solvent over 20 years ago, benzene is still used in making solvents, degreasers, mineral spirits, plastics, rubber products, resins, glues, dyes, detergents, pesticides, chemicals such as styrene, and a host of other products. It is also naturally occurring in petroleum products, such as gasoline, as well as in cigarette smoke.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, benzene is a known human carcinogen. The EPA regulates the amount of benzene occurring in the environment and in drinking water, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the amount of benzene to which workers can be exposed on the job.
The health risks of benzene and solvent exposure have been known by industry for a long time. Its relationship to leukemia was observed by medical experts as long ago as 1928. In 1948, the American Petroleum Institute published a study showing benzene can cause leukemia and concluded that the only “safe” level of benzene exposure is no exposure at all. Yet benzene has been widely used in a variety of industrial and even household products for decades, and is still being used today.
People can be exposed to benzene multiple ways: by breathing its vapors, through skin contact, even through ingestion. The most common means by which people are exposed to dangerous levels of the toxic chemical is through their work. Occupations such as painters, mechanics, and workers in the printing industry are particularly at risk of developing benzene-related diseases such as acute myelogenous leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome or aplastic anemia.
I have been diagnosed with blood cancer, but my doctor has not told me the cause. How can I find out whether benzene or a related toxic chemical caused my disease?
If you have been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or a blood disease like aplastic anemia or myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), your doctors may or may not suspect that benzene or related toxic substances are to blame. Because your doctor’s main job is to try to make you well, he or she may be less concerned about discovering the cause of your disease and more intent on determining the best medical treatment for you.
So how does a person learn whether his blood disease was caused by benzene or solvents?
One way is to contact our law firm for a case evaluation. As part of the case evaluation process, we will explore the evidence to determine whether benzene may have caused your disease. To do this, we first investigate your history and your possible sources of benzene exposure, occupational and otherwise. We then provide your history and your medical records to a medical expert with experience in the study of the relationship between benzene and blood cancers and diseases. The medical expert will study your case and tell us whether, in his or her scientific opinion, benzene was a factor in the development of your injuries.
I have just been diagnosed with leukemia. I suspect that it was caused by chemicals I used on the job. I want to pursue a benzene lawsuit, but I need to focus on my treatment. How much time do I have to file a claim?
You have a limited amount of time to pursue a benzene lawsuit or risk losing the right to seek compensation for your injuries, under laws known in most states as “the statute of limitations” or in Louisiana, the “prescriptive period.” While the amount of time to file a lawsuit differs from state to state, it is nevertheless a good idea to pursue your case as soon as you realize your disease might be caused by benzene.
There are several good reasons to get an early start on your case. First, you are likely the best source of information about your exposure history; the sooner an attorney can interview you about your background, the better equipped he or she will be to evaluate your potential case. It can also take time to investigate a case like yours to both determine whether benzene was the likely cause of your injuries and which companies are responsible for your exposure. To best protect your legal rights, the sooner you take action the better.
Understandably, the thought of dealing with attorneys while you are undergoing treatment can be overwhelming. That’s why our attorneys try to make the experience as easy as possible for you. Once we interview you and gather the initial information and documents we need to evaluate your case, we will handle the work from there so that you can focus on your health.
I used to work in an occupation where I was exposed to solvents and other chemicals, but that was several years before I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Is it too late to file a benzene lawsuit?
Under what’s known as the “discovery rule,” the laws in most states recognize that your time limits for filing a benzene lawsuit do not begin to run until you know or should have known that your disease was caused by benzene. Thus, regardless of when you were exposed to benzene, the laws of most states do not require you to file a lawsuit until after you are diagnosed with a benzene-related disease.
This rule is particularly important in benzene cases because of what’s called the “latency period” between exposure and the development of disease. The scientific literature generally recognizes that it typically takes at least five years, and sometimes much longer, for a blood cancer to develop after a person’s exposure to benzene.
The company I worked for when I was exposed to benzene and other solvents and degreasers is now out of business. Can I still seek compensation for my diagnosis of blood cancer?
Possibly yes. In many benzene-related cases, the lawsuit is brought not against a person’s employer, but the companies that manufactured the benzene-containing products to which he or she was exposed. In addition to your lawsuit against the product manufacturers, you might also have a claim for workers’ compensation against your employer; depending on the laws of your state, workers’ compensation benefits may still be available to you even if your employer is out of business. In any event, it is a good idea to discuss your concerns with an attorney to determine what course of action might be available to you.