Saturday, May 14, 2011

“Ored to Death” – The Daily Show Takes on the Canadian Asbestos Industry

In a recent blog we addressed efforts on the part of mining interests, with support from the Canadian government, to re-open the world’s largest asbestos mine in the city of Asbestos, Quebec. Although the sale of asbestos is prohibited in Canada, the consortium plans to sell the deadly fiber to India and other developing countries.

This story also caught the attention of Comedy Central Network’s “Daily Show”, hosted by Jon Stewart. In this segment which aired on May 12, correspondent Asif Mandvi visits the town of Asbestos and interviews mine and city officials who ridiculously adhere to the position that the chrysotile fiber removed from the mine is “relatively” safe despite the weight of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Mandvi manages to maintain his comedic shtick during an interview with mine owner Bernard Coulumbe up to the point where Mr. Coulumbe states that it’s ok to sell asbestos to India because “they are used to pollution.” At which point Mandvi, who is Indian, breaks character and exclaims: “that’s really f***ed up…selling them things that are going to kill them…that’s my family over there!”

Marilyn Bertrand
 The callous statements from the Canadian mine and city officials interviewed by Mandvi remind us of a 1998 exchange between Roger Worthington and University of Quebec Occupational Hygienist, Dr. Bruce Case. The exchange was precipitated by an article The Serpent in the Rock”  authored by Mr. Worthington about a woman named Marilyn Bertrand who was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 42. Marilyn recalled sleeping with a “furry” asbestos rock that she would snuggle with in her bed at night as a child. The asbestos rock was given to her by her brother who worked at a Quebec asbestos mine.

In response to the article, Dr. Chase felt compelled to send Mr. Worthington a letter defending the Quebec asbestos mines from what he termed “false allegations” concerning the link between mesothelioma and the chrysotile fiber mined from the Quebec asbestos mines. Dr. Chase went so far as to warn Mr. Worthington: “I strongly suggest, for your own protection, that you remove this page from your site.” Click here to see the full dialogue, which includes Mr. Worthington’s recounting of the history of U.S. and Canadian asbestos companies’ efforts to cover up and suppress medical data on the health dangers of asbestos

We applaud Assif Mandvi and the Daily Show for bringing public attention to the latest chapter in the Canadian asbestos industry’s deadly charade.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Inspired by Cancer Thrivers, BfC Digs Deep Into the Happy Hurt Locker, Wins the Dana Point Grand Prix

Dana Point, CA. They've done it again. Another clean sweep of the podium by the Breakaway from Cancer masters racing team, but this time, it was personal.

A Clean Sweep.
Roger Worthington, Steve Strickler
 and Thurlow Rogers
 "I had a chance to meet this young boy Tyler Cordova before the race," said Steve Strickler, beaming with pride after winning a hard-fought race.. "He had this big smile on his face. He told me had had over 10 surgeries but recently he got some very good news -- that his Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was in remission. I was so happy that he was so happy that I was a chin quiver away from bursting out with tears of joy. "

"In the race I kept thinking how lucky I was to have the privilege of being able to suffer on my terms. To win a big race, you have to want to go deep into that hurt locker if you want to come out the winner. It's ironic, but to do your best you have to be ready put your body through the ringer -- pain is simply the price winners have to pay," Strickler explained, struggling for the words. "My suffering was nothing compared to what this young champion Tyler has had to endure - that ugly, involuntary, stupid pain that only seems to beget more pain, with no reward. I kept telling myself that young Tyler would love to have the chance to experience that good kind of cathartic suffering."

Just as it took a team of front line doctors, benchwork scientists, caregivers, drug companies, friends and especially family to give 10 year old Tyler a fighting chance to break away from Cancer, it took a team effort to launch Strickler to victory. From the gun, BfC took control of the race, attacking repeatedly in the effort to wear down the field. When the peloton began stretching thin, BfC teammates Thurlow Rogers and Strickler sensed the moment and busted off the front, gaining a quick ten second advantage. 

The peloton winding through
downtown Dana Point on
an idyllic Sunday afternoon
Every racer dreams of breaking away, just as every cancer patient dreams of breaking clear of cancer's ugly grip. But for a breakaway to succeed, it takes a combination of team tactics, individual grit, and luck. Strickler and Rogers, a 1984 Olympian, began working in tandem off the front, expertly shaving the corners and efficiently taking turns at the point in the wind.

Meanwhile, in the peloton, the BfC boys were stuffing the corners, chasing down bridge attempts, and stifling fledgling efforts by the other teams to mount a serious chase. Finally, with three laps remaining in the six turn, .9 mile course in beautiful downtown Dana Point, the peloton accepted its fate that on this day this breakaway was just too strong and too motivated. They conceded and turned their attention to winning the field sprint for third.

Up the road, as Strickler and Thurlow ramped down the home stretch to the finish line, the only question among these two long time friends and warriors was who was going to get the win. Each magnanimously braked for the other but in a "photo finish" the camera gave Strickler the edge. When a team races together as a team, each member gets to share the glory.

Roger Worthington on the
point of the spear
Teammate Roger Worthington, too, found motivation in the heroic pursuit for more life by those courageous men and women stricken with cancer. The previous night, the Pacific Meso Center and Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer sponsored a fundraiser for cancer research and awareness.  Several mesothelioma patients, although hurting, overcame the pain and inconvenience to travel to the Dana Point Yacht Club to support the noble cause. Worthington was moved by the resiliency, faith, hope and optimism of these brave souls for whom quitting was never an option.

Worthington attacked with two turns to go and rode in for third, completing the clean sweep by Breakaway from Cancer. The entire Breakaway from Cancer team dedicated the win to Tyler Cordova and mesothelioma survivors Terry Latham (Dana Point), Jacob Jager (San Clemente), Bob Vitale (Palos Verdes), Geno Stirone (Mission Viejo), David Theobold and Nasseem Faraq.

The BfC masters racing team wishes to thank Amgen, the City of Dana Point and the Pacific Meso Center for putting on a wonderful weekend. The highlight of day, however, was not winning the race. Instead, it was walking in solidarity with young Tyler as well as several mesothelioma patients down the home stretch across the finish line as thousands of fans cheered in support. For the record, Strickler, who walked with the survivors, did not let Tyler cross the finish line in first -- our young hero gutted up and took it!


PS. We're still counting, but so far it looks like the Breakaway from Cancer gala raised just south of $50,000 for the evening. Thank you! Trickle down philanthropy is alive and well in Dana Point! Heartwarming to note that the biggest donors were cancer survivors and family members.

Clare Cameron (Pacific Meso Center), Holly Cordova,
Tyler Cordova, Dana Point Mayor Scott Schoeffel and
Nurse Practitioner Anne Rorie

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beware of Deceptive Marketing Tactics Targeting Military Veterans

We have previously commented on the lengths to which many law firms are willing to go to reach the 2,500 or so Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma in an article entitled “Beware of Madison Avenue Meso Lawyers”. In the article, we focused on the massive advertising budgets of certain firms, some in excess of $10 million, which have resulted in the airwaves being flooded with incessant commercials. Recently, we have noticed an even more disturbing effort in which firms are using deceptive tactics targeting mesothelioma patients who served in the U.S. military.

Statistics show that about 30% of mesothelioma patients in the U.S. were exposed to asbestos while serving in military, primarily in the Navy. In an effort to induce these newly diagnosed patients to contact them, many firms are engaging in tactics that prey upon the vulnerable veterans' sense of brotherhood with fellow veterans and the need for financial and medical resources to fight their disease.

The Classic “Bait and Switch”

One of the tactics involves law firms which run ads or maintain websites on behalf of what appear to be veterans’ assistance agencies. While the ads or websites are filled with pictures of American flags, Navy ships and service men and women in uniform, conspicuously absent is the name or any reference to the law firm underwriting the marketing effort. The ruse would have the veteran believe that the so-called agency is aligned with, if not part of, the Veterans’ Administration itself.

The “agencies” offer free resources to military veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The resources commonly include assistance submitting claims for VA benefits. It isn’t until an unsuspecting patient contacts the “agency” that its “true colors” are revealed.

Patients who either call or submit a “free resources” request are quickly referred to an attorney at the law firm responsible for the ad or website. While the attorney may pay lip service to the patient’s interest in submitting a claim for VA benefits (which, as discussed below, does not require an attorney), the focus soon turns to getting the patient to hire the law firm to file a personal injury lawsuit. If the patient doesn’t immediately sign with the firm, which could be located across the country from the patient’s home, the firm will often hound the patient with non-stop phone calls until the patient finally relents.

“I Love a Man in a Uniform”

Another tactic involves law firms hiring retired military officers to make their firm more appealable to military veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The retired officers are not attorneys and therefore do not work on client cases (there are laws against non-attorneys practicing law). Accordingly, the involvement of the retired officers is typically limited to what can only be described as “client acquisition” functions.

Some firms promote the availability of their on-staff retired officers, complete with pictures of the officers in their dress blues or whites, to answer questions about benefits available to veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, once a patient calls or submits an information request form, the conversation inevitably turns to getting the patient to hire the law firm to handle a personal injury lawsuit, followed by non-stop phone calls from the firm.

Some law firms have resorted to using their on-staff retired officers as “closers,” sending the officers out to meet with veterans who have contacted the firm. The marketing strategy is simple – the firm is betting that, in the tradition of esprit de corp, the veteran will more likely bond with and trust a fellow serviceman than an attorney. The gambit also has the advantage of promoting the perception that a firm that employs a polished retired officer is somehow uniquely qualified to handle a military veteran’s case. Typically, it is not until weeks or months after the firm is hired that the client learns that the retired officer, who is not an attorney, will not be working on their case.

Veterans’ Legal Rights

Central to the success of the deceptive marketing tactics targeting veterans is the perception that persons exposed to asbestos in the military possess legal rights which are substantially different than those possessed by non-veterans. This simply isn’t true.

All asbestos injury cases involve claims against the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos products. Claims against solvent entities must be brought in state or federal court, and claims against bankrupt entities must be submitted to the asbestos bankruptcy trust for those entities that have them. Persons who were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military do not have the right to bring a lawsuit against the military or the federal government. Accordingly, the “legal” rights of persons with asbestos illness who were exposed in the military are no different than those who were exposed outside the military.

While it is true that persons exposed in the military have the right to apply for VA benefits, it should be understood that a claim for VA benefits is completely separate from a lawsuit. It involves the submission of forms to the VA. The forms are designed to be completed without the assistance of an attorney and, in fact, the vast majority of veterans complete the forms without attorney assistance. The amount of benefits are based entirely on VA guidelines – there is little or no room for negotiation. While it’s true that every penny counts, the amount of recoverable VA benefits pales dramatically in comparison to the amount that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit.

There’s No Substitute For Experience

Offers of "free" assistance with claims for VA benefits and the presence of on-staff retired military officers can be very seductive to a veteran recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, neither of these hallow offerings do much if anything to address what a newly diagnosed patient really needs.

Second only to prompt access to the most promising medical treatment is a patient’s need for prompt recovery of financial resources to cover the extraordinary medical and non-medical costs of fighting mesothelioma. Assistance with VA forms which patients can complete on their own, and the presence of retired non-attorney military officers who do not work on the actual lawsuits which are by far the greatest source of financial recovery, do little to address this need.

A mesothelioma patient’s financial needs are best served by a personal injury lawsuit handled by experienced asbestos attorneys with a proven track record of prompt and successful recoveries for their clients.

Can you be sure that law firms hiding behind deceptive so-called veterans’ assistance agencies or retired non-attorney military officers have this experience?

The Worthington Firm’s Experience Representing Military Veterans

For the past 20 years, the Worthington Law Firm has dedicated its practice to the representation of mesothelioma victims. Over this time, we have represented hundreds of veterans. In fact, approximately 50% of our clients were exposed to asbestos while serving in the military, most often the Navy. The recoveries for our military clients have consistently been among the largest in the country.

Our success in Navy cases is based in large part on the knowledge we have acquired over the years regarding Navy ships, when their hulls were laid down, when they launched for button-down cruises, where they ported or dry-docked for overhauls and conversions, and the identity and operation of the pumps, valves, turbines, boilers, catapults, heat exchangers etc. that were used on them.

Attorney Roger Worthington has been a long-time advocate for military veterans stricken with asbestos disease and has written frequently on the topic.

A Salute to Navy Veterans With Asbestos Cancer (2/2009)

Navy Veterans Heavily Exposed to Asbestos on Ships, but Bail Out Bill Undermines Right to Fair Compensation (7/2006)

Serving Navy Veterans with Asbestos Cancer through Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (10/2004) 

For the Sake of Our Heroes -- A Mesothelioma Medical Research Program

Recommendation for a National Mesothelioma Research and Treatment Program - Description and Legislative Language (3/2004)

MARF Advocates Creation of CDMRP for Mesothelioma Through DOD and DVA (2004-2005)

Asbestos Victim Protest Letters (2003-2005)

Mr. Worthington is also very proud to have received the following endorsement from Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, USMCR, whose father Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., died from mesothelioma in January 2000:

"There is nothing so devastating as hearing the diagnosis a loved one has meso. It is at such a time a family needs guidance not only on legal issues but, more importantly, on methods of treatment. Because Roger Worthington has witnessed firsthand the suffering of mesothelioma victims, he established and funded MARF--a foundation focusing on finding a cure for this deadly disease. This has resulted in MARF attracting some of the most experienced medical authorities in mesothelioma treatment. I know of no other lawyer in America who funds a foundation on his own which, if successful, would minimize his potential client base. But Roger recognized a responsibility to mesothelioma victims that transcended the courtroom. As such, while he is an extraordinary advocate for clients throughout the litigation process, he has also become an extraordinary advocate, on behalf of all mesothelioma victims, within the halls of Congress as he has sought federal funding for R&D to find an ultimate cure for meso. No client could ask more of a legal advocate."

The Worthington Firm believes that America’s military veterans deserve our utmost gratitude and respect for their selfless service to their country. Veterans who contract mesothelioma were never privy to the information which asbestos companies knew about the deadly consequences of exposure to dust from the products they supplied to the military. This, in and of itself, was a tremendous betrayal of the trust and respect owed to our veterans. We find that the deceptive marketing tactics which some law firms are now using to target veterans with mesothelioma simply add insult to this injury.

John Caron
May 1, 2011