I have been exposed to asbestos and am not sick, but fear that I will eventually become ill as a result. Do I have a case?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Not at this time. For you to recover damages for emotional distress for future illness, you have to be suffering from a current illness that may worsen. Being worried about future illness while you are still well does not rise to the level of emotional distress necessary for a lawsuit – many people are worried about becoming ill in the future, but they don’t have grounds to sue anyone based on that. 

A recent United States Supreme Court case, Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Ayers, held that the plaintiffs, who were already sick with asbestosis from asbestos exposure, could also receive damages for emotional distress based on the fact that roughly 10% of patients with asbestosis develop, and die from, mesothelioma. The Court excluded those who had been exposed to asbestos but were not yet sick, stating that to do otherwise would be to open the claims up to unlimited and unpredictable numbers. The Court also found that there needed to be both a serious and genuine fear of developing a more serious disease, and that this might preclude liability on this issue in the future. 

Therefore, since you are not currently suffering from any asbestos related illness, your best plan right now is to document any asbestos exposure that you suspect you have had, where you were exposed, and for how long.

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