Seventy-six year old Dorothy Kuykendall told a committee of the Indiana state legislature about how she had contracted mesothelioma by working in a local Glas-Col Apparatus Company where she had been exposed to toxic asbestos fibers. Mrs. Kuykendall testified before the committee in order to alter a state law that limits the amount of time that asbestos workers have to file claims against the companies responsible for the conditions under which they were exposed to asbestos.
Mrs. Kuykendall is part of a group that is challenging an Indiana Supreme Court ruling that limits the liability period for such firms to ten years. They say that the ruling does not take into account the fact that diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and other forms of lung cancer may not become apparent until several decades after exposure.
Mrs. Kuykendall and others who have testified stated that the limited time span allows companies to evade responsibility for exposing workers to dangerous substances such as asbestos. The group wants to change the law so that patients with such diseases can file legal actions up to two years after they receive their diagnoses. According to their testimony, Indiana is the only state in the Union that does not allow for such exemptions when it comes to diseases that do not appear within a few months or years after exposure.
Mesothelioma, a disease that both Mrs. Kuykendall and her husband suffer from, is an aggressive form of cancer that affects the fluid lining of the lungs. Dr. David Mares, a physician who specializes in respiratory and pulmonary disorders, stated that mesothelioma is almost always associated with asbestos exposure. He also said that symptoms may not occur for as much as sixty years after exposure and that patients with the disease often live less than two years after their initial diagnosis.
Mrs. Kuykendall stated that she worked at the Glas-Col Apparatus Company, a factory in her hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana, for several years. She stopped handling asbestos-laced materials as part of her job in 1975. However, she received a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma from her doctor last April. She also testified that her husband, thirteen years her senior, also contracted the disease as he worked at various construction sites in the 1960s and 1970s.
US Centers for Disease Control statistics told of up to seventy Indiana residents a year die from mesothelioma. Although the state legislature had previously carved out an exemption in 1989, a 2003 ruling from the state Supreme Court effectively neutralized the clause.
State legislators are confident that the exemption will pass when it comes up for a vote in the General Assembly sometime early next year. One lawmaker, Republican State Senator John Waterman, told a story of how he worked for a demolition firm in the 1960s. During his time on the job, he recalled being surrounded by a white cloud of asbestos and having the toxic fibers blanketing his work truck. He mentioned how many of his former co-workers at the site had died of lung cancer and other diseases and that he would lead the charge for the exemption when the Assembly reconvenes.