Over the past two decades, a multitude of personal injury lawsuits filed against manufacturers and suppliers over silicosis injuries suffered by workers in various industries once promised to change the landscape of silica exposure in the workplace. However, and in spite of multi-million dollar payouts in past silicosis lawsuits, universal federal regulations for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) safety remain forthcoming and state statutes only account for select demographics.
With a resurgence in the popularity of stone countertops, the engineered stone fabrication industry has been enjoying a significant increase in demand. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to meet these demands, manufacturers have failed to consider the potentially lethal side effects of overexposure to airborne silica dust their workers breathed in unsafe work conditions. More and more stone fabricators are filing silicosis lawsuits against their current and former employers on account of their failure to ensure workplace safety in an effort to attain compensation for the damages they have suffered on account of silicosis and other silica dust exposure-related injuries.
What Is Silica?
Silica is a naturally occurring mineral, which can be found in a variety of stone types, including granite and quartz. Those who work in the stone fabrication industry, however, run a high risk of overexposure to the exponentially more dangerous respirable crystalline silica (RSC).
RCS is a common byproduct of grinding, cutting, and polishing both natural and engineered stone. Workers can easily inhale the microscopic particulates, which are nearly 100 times smaller than a grain of sand.
In the absence of equipment that can diminish the expulsion of RCS into the air, like water sprays and ventilators, engineered stone workers face the possibility of long-term exposure translating into chronic and sometimes terminal illnesses like silicosis and lung cancer. Although other industries maintain rigid workplace protocols, largely on account of well-known RCS lawsuits over silicosis, various stone fabricating businesses have, in the past 5 years, failed to adhere to preexisting regulations and now face litigation.
What Is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a progressive lung illness causally linked to the overexposure of respirable crystalline silica. When an individual continually inhales RCS during the workday, the particulates can inflame and irritate the sensitive interior of the lungs, especially the air sacs.
Over time, the exposure can result in the development of pulmonary scar tissue which constricts lung capacity and results in a litany of severe side effects, including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Degenerative cough
- Decreased mobility
- Dramatic weight loss
In recent Yahoo! News reporting, Latino migrant workers in California revealed the life-altering consequences of their silicosis diagnosis. Some were restricted to relying on oxygen machines for oxygen supply, while others had to leave work.
There are three types of silicosis, primarily distinguished by the correlation between the length of the exposure time and the severity of the condition.
Chronic Silicosis (Simple and Complicated)
Chronic silicosis typically develops 10+ years after sustained exposure to respirable crystalline silica. Given the lengthy exposure period and its comparatively minor symptoms, chronic silicosis is the least severe silicosis type. Nevertheless, chronic silicosis is subdivided into simple and complicated permutations, each of varying degrees of severity.
Simple silicosis is often either asymptomatic or connected to minor difficulty while breathing. By contrast, complicated silicosis can result in more severe breathing problems, a progressive cough, and weight loss.
Silicosis is, ultimately, a consequence of occupational inhalation of RCS, and because some industries and positions require increased exposure, workers who fill them can develop the condition at a noticeably quicker rate and younger age.
Accelerated silicosis is a consequence of extensive overexposure over a period of 5 - 10 years. Although it can display identical if more intense symptoms of complicated chronic silicosis, it is distinguished by more acute lung inflammation and greater pulmonary fibrosis.
The most severe form of RCS-related lung disease, acute silicosis can occur only months after sustained exposure and poses the most serious risk to engineered stone worker health. The progressive illness can result in:
- Serious lung inflammation
- Pulmonary fluid buildup
- Shortness of breath
- Low blood oxygen levels
- Weight loss
None of the silicosis diagnoses is curable — some are lethal. For long-term sufferers, the only life-saving recourse is to search for a lung transplant. Unfortunately, a paucity of donors, insufficient insurance coverage, and the intensification of the disease with time can render even this hope, at times, illusory.
Silicosis Lawsuit RSC-Related Injuries
Although silicosis is by far the most serious medical condition associated with long-term exposure to RCS in unregulated work environments, the inhalation of silica dust is also closely related to a variety of other debilitating conditions, such as:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
The peer-reviewed journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM) published an article in 2003 that closely linked overexposure to RCS and COPD, a severe medical condition that can upend an individual’s life. Surveying antecedent studies, the researchers discovered that “silica can cause pathological changes that may lead to the development of COPD”.
Commonly caused by chronic smoking and preexisting pulmonary conditions, COPD results in:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Mucus overproduction
- Weight loss
Like silicosis, COPD is incurable and progressive, which means that treatment and costs associated with it may last for the remainder of an individual’s life. If you believe that your COPD may be connected to RCS exposure, consider speaking with a qualified silica lawyer to determine whether you may be eligible for compensation that covers past, present, and future medical expenditures.
In a December 2022 overview, the National Cancer Institute briefly surveys the potentially carcinogenic effects of respirable crystalline silica overexposure. Citing studies of quarry and granite workers, the NCI states that inhalation of RCS is “associated with elevated rates of lung cancer”.
Although lung cancer is treatable, the threat of lethality hardly recedes altogether, and, taken alongside the devastating reality of a cancer diagnosis, an individual battling lung cancer caused by RCS exposure may also have to contend with:
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Weak or hoarse voice
- Whistling sound when breathing
- Recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia
Chronic Kidney Disease
Silica inhalation can impact more than just your lungs. It even has the potential to cause chronic kidney disease (CKD), which can result in the bodily retention of fluids and an abundance of waste in the bloodstream. In much the same way that silicosis and COPD are progressive diagnoses, CKD can also grow more severe over time, increasing an individual’s need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Common symptoms of silica-related chronic kidney disease include:
- Loss of appetite
- Low calcium levels
- High potassium levels
Respirable Crystalline Silica Safety Standards
Within the past several years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has undertaken extensive investigations to re-examine the health risks associated with the engineered stone industry. The impetus originated from alarming reports from Spain, Israel, and Australia which detailed the unnerving lack of workplace protections and the drastic increase in diseases from RCS exposure, including silicosis.
In the United States of America, over 2 million workers run the risk of RCS overexposure, and, in California, particularly, Hispanic migrant laborers in the stone fabrication business have disproportionately suffered from silicosis. For example, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine consisting of 52 predominantly Latino participants suffering from silicosis found that misdiagnoses and lethalities were common. Several participants either failed to receive a life-saving lung transplant or died while waiting.
OSHA revised its Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) standards, considerably decreasing the allowable rate at which a worker on a job site can be exposed to RCS to 50 μg/cubic meters per 8 hours. In its engineered stone Hazard Report, OSHA also recommends equipment guidelines to minimize the rate of RCS exposure during the production, completion, and installation of countertops.
The U.S. Department of Labor, in June 2023, also released revised standards to guarantee workplace protection. Like the efforts of OSHA, the recent federal push to devise and enforce engineered stone industry regulations parallel similar state-level and intra-industry movements.
Engineered Stone Fabrication Manufacturers Failed to Safeguard Workers’ Health
In recent months, a bevy of personal injury and workers’ compensation lawsuits have emerged alleging that select manufacturers and employers in the stone fabrication industry systematically failed to prioritize and protect workers’ health. The majority of the lawsuits involve plaintiffs who have developed severe silicosis on account of their employers’ failure to observe basic safety protocols in the workplace designed to minimize the risk of RCS overexposure.
OSHA’s Hazard Alert supports the disturbing complaints, stating that its investigations in Oklahoma and Washington state revealed a surprising lack of protocol to prevent the inhalation of RCS in the production and installation of countertops. Rather than rely on some kind of wet spray, for example, which would decrease the volume and expulsion of silica particulates into the air during the cutting of stone, many shops relied on dry cutting.
Additionally, many businesses employed equipment that increased the presence of airborne silica dust in their workshops. Although the OSHA Hazard Alert provides suggestions for personal protection equipment (PPE), it does not address the question of stone fabrication manufacturers’ failure to enforce the use of:
- N-95 filtering facepiece respirators
- Air-purifying respirators
- Full facepiece elastomeric respirators
Yahoo! News further reports that state regulators in California allege that a blatant disregard of state-imposed, industry-specific regulations was largely to blame for the noticeably higher rates of silica-related diagnoses and lethalities. Moreover, even professional organizations recognize the need for regulations from the federal government, state administrations, and employers.
The Agglomerated Stone Manufacturers Association (AStA) published a general statement in March 2023 recognizing the need to develop more responsible policies to ensure sufficient protection in the workplace. The association alleges that “poor adherence [to proposed protocol] seems evident” and that “safety issues or health hazards” were not inevitable in the stone fabrication industry.
Who Can File a Silicosis Lawsuit?
Silicosis and other silica-related injuries can have life-altering consequences. Aside from requiring considerable medical treatment and professional leaves of absence, they can also endanger one’s life. Given the severity of RCS-related injuries, many engineered stone workers are suing their employers to seek compensation for the severe injuries they have sustained.
If you were exposed to respirable crystalline silica in the stone fabrication industry and subsequently developed the serious condition of silicosis, you may be eligible to file suit against the manufacturer and/or your employer for their failure to ensure safety in the workplace.
How Much Is A Silicosis Lawsuit Worth?
There is an unfortunate correlation between the severity of a disease and the funds needed to treat it. Moreover, many individuals who have developed silicosis, COPD, lung disease, or chronic kidney disease (CKD) from overexposure to respirable crystalline silica might have permanently or temporarily left their job on account of the severity of their condition and the time it takes to seek treatment.
Although an RCS victim’s insurance may be able to cover some of the medical expenses associated with the treatment of RCS-induced illnesses, long-term conditions may require investments that outstrip an individual’s resources.
That is why it is worthwhile to consider seeking due compensation with a silicosis lawsuit. At this point, the pending silicosis lawsuits are immature and preliminary in nature and none have yet to be settled. Nevertheless, prior silica lawsuits in the sandblasting industry resulted in multimillion-dollar payouts.
There are two major categories of damages in personal injury law that attorneys use to calculate the precise compensation to which you may be entitled:
Silicosis Lawsuit Economic Damages
Economic damages account for all financial costs and losses, including:
- Lost wages
- Lost Income
- Medical expenses past, present, and future
If you are considering filing a silicosis lawsuit, it is imperative that you keep extensive documentation of medical bills, pay stubs, etc. for your counsel to use in determining the compensation figure.
Silicosis Lawsuit Non-Economic Damages
Less precise than economic damages, non-economic damages cover:
- Pain and suffering
- Decreased quality of life
- Emotional distress
One way in which you can bolster the evidence you intend to introduce in court is to keep a journal detailing your experiences combatting severe RCS-related diseases.
Courts will sometimes award punitive damages, which are meant to impose an additional financial penalty on a defendant for especially egregious or negligent behavior. It is too early to tell at this point whether any of the pending silicosis lawsuits will result in or request such compensation.
Silicosis Lawsuit FAQs
Who Is Being Sued in the Silicosis Litigation?
Several stone fabrication and stone countertop manufacturers are the target of ongoing silicosis lawsuits.
- Cosentino Group
- Caesarstone USA Inc.
- Cambria USA
- Colorquartz USA Inc.
They stand accused of failing to guarantee the safety of stone fabricators in the workplace, thereby causing their employees harm.
How Much Does a Silicosis Lawyer Cost?
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means that they take their fee out of the compensation they attain for you in the form of a percentage. If they fail to get compensation then 0% of 0 means you owe them nothing. Moreover, most silicosis lawyers provide free consultations for prospective clients to determine the eligibility of their claims and the strength of the evidence.
How Long Do I Have to File a Silicosis Lawsuit?
Every state has its own statutes of limitation which establish a legal deadline upon whose expiration a claim is no longer eligible in court. In Florida, most personal injury and general negligence claims are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.
For further information and clarification, consider seeking a free consultation with an experienced silicosis lawyer today.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for My Silicosis Lawsuit?
At LLN, we strongly believe that a claimant stands the best chance at acquiring compensation with a qualified personal injury attorney by their side. The legal landscape for silicosis litigation is complex and involves questions pertaining to workers’ compensation and employer liability.
Rather than undertake the herculean effort of drafting, filing, and defending paperwork in court and representing yourself in a silicosis lawsuit, you should have as much time to tend to your health as possible.
Battling COPD, silicosis, and chronic kidney disease costs as much time and well-being as it does money. Fortunately, our experienced advocates understand how to navigate the complicated inroads and detours that inevitably emerge as a lawsuit advances.
With exceptional client testimonials and a proven track record of individualized and constant attention, our silicosis lawyers will protect your rights as you safeguard your health. The difference between the successful resolution of a case and failing to acquire any compensation often hinges not simply on the quality of your chosen counsel but your decision to seek them in the first place.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer About Your Silicosis Lawsuit
Whenever employers fail to guarantee the safety of their employees, they threaten to upend lives and destroy livelihoods. By failing to maintain workplace protections and safety protocols to decrease the expulsion of RCS from the cutting, grinding, and polishing of stone slabs, manufacturers in the stone fabrication industry placed their employees in danger of developing silicosis. Now, it is time for them to reimburse them for lost hours, health, and happiness.
The experienced legal team of personal injury lawyers at LLN offers free consultations to determine the strength of your case and its eligibility in court. Our specialized services are designed to treat every client with the dignity and decency their employer refused them.
If you worked in the engineered stone industry and subsequently developed the symptoms of COPD, silicosis, lung cancer, or kidney disease, consider contacting us today.