Home renovation projects can be messy and time-consuming. Building things and making home improvements can be a point of pride, but they can also be dangerous. Nowadays, there are professionals suited to do any job imaginable. People specialize in certain kinds of home repairs, such as painting, carpentry, electrical, and many others. To save money, many homeowners elect to try their hand at these kinds of projects on their own. The results are not always stellar, but the objective of cutting costs is usually met.
When professionals are called in to get the job done, there is a general expectation that the person hired has extensive experience and knowledge. As part of that, they are expected to exercise caution so that the risk of an accident occurring is mitigated to the greatest extent possible. If there are potentially dangerous tools needed for the job, they will be guarded with certain safety locks. Any harmful raw materials, such as insulation, will be duly exposed of.
In the last fifty or so years, asbestos has become one of the hot-button topics in commercial and residential real estate transactions. Asbestos, as we now know, is a very harmful substance that can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. Removing it from older buildings, therefore, becomes a challenge. It must be contained and taken away for proper disposal so that people are not exposed to the tiny, cancer-causing fibers.
In 1983 and 1984, the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri was undergoing a renovation. At the time, Nancy Lopez worked in the courthouse as a secretary on the fifth floor.
According to the Kansas City Times, the U.S. Engineering Company was hired to remove part of the structures inside the building. Much of the work was done while the courthouse was still occupied. Workers sawed through old heating pipes insulated with asbestos. They also tracked dust through the building as they hauled the pieces of pipe down the freight elevator and out to a dumpster in the parking lot. Asbestos dust covered the desks of nearly every courthouse employee, none of whom were given protective equipment, such as masks or gloves. Lopez and many others continued on with their jobs despite the swirling dust. The building remained in this condition for several weeks before the project was completed.
Years later, Lopez was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She, along with her attorney Lou Carrouso, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Engineering Company for the negligent removal of asbestos. Lopez died in 2010 at the age of 56, but her heirs were able to secure a $10.4 million settlement.