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Dennis Lomet worked for Lawes Coal Company from 1987 to 2012 when he died of lung cancer at the age of 47. He installed, removed, or repaired heating and air conditioning equipment. He never smoked cigarettes. Before he died, he told one of his treating physicians that he thought he had been exposed to chemicals, soot and asbestos in the course of his employment. One of his friends testified at trial that he believed he and the decedent were exposed to asbestos during the period from 1987 to 1992.
Mr. Lomet’s widow, Michelle Lomet, testified that her husband would be so dirty when he returned home from work that he would need to take two showers. When he would blow his nose, there was black material on the tissues.
Petitioner’s expert, Dr. William Lerner, did not give strong testimony regarding exposure to asbestos. He seemed to assume there was exposure to asbestos: “In somebody who is exposed to chemicals like that and asbestos with no other smoking history and no other known cause for his lung cancer, a reasonable probability of these carcinogens causing Dennis’s lung cancer. . . is not unreasonable as a conclusion.”
Respondent’s expert, Dr. Jack Goldberg, testified that there was no evidence of asbestos exposure in this case. He said that if asbestos fibers enter the lung and cause cancer, plaques are visualized on radiographical films. He said there were none in petitioner’s studies. He also said that none of the pathological studies indicated exposure to asbestos. Finally, he said that there were no radiological studies showing that the decedent’s cancer was caused by chemical exposure either.
The Judge of Compensation concluded that there was no objective medical evidence showing that asbestos exposure caused or contributed to the decedent’s lung cancer. The Judge stated that this is “a case where there is zero medical evidence and 100% medical speculation.”
Petitioner appealed and argued that there was sufficient credible evidence in the record showing exposure to asbestos. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of petitioner’s dependency claim. “We have examined the evidence, and concur with the judge of compensation’s finding there was no evidence of substance that causally links Dennis’s lung cancer to asbestos or other chemicals to which he may have been exposed while working for Lawes.” The Court also said that there was also no evidence of the extent of any exposure, even if there was exposure.
The case is interesting in that it focused on the threshold issue in every asbestos-related pulmonary claim: namely proof of asbestos exposure. The Court did not believe that statements by the decedent and co-worker that they thought they were exposed to asbestos was sufficient proof of exposure. Rather, they insisted on objective evidence. There was no proof of any asbestos remediation project and no showing of any asbestos products in the workplace. By far the most damaging element of the case was that the radiographic studies showed no asbestos-related plaques in the decedent’s lungs.
The case can be found at Lomet v. Lawes Coal Company, A-1169-16T1 (App. Div. July 11, 2018).
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at email@example.com.