Legal Options for Individuals Exposed to Beryllium

(Page 2 of 2 of Beryllium Exposure, Health Effects & Compensation)

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People who have suffered health problems due to beryllium exposure have several options in seeking compensation for their injuries. In some cases, workers may also be able to get free medical screening or monitoring for beryllium-related diseases.

Worker's Compensation

Individuals that get sick from beryllium exposure at the workplace may be eligible for worker's compensation benefits. These benefits cover medical expenses, lost wages, and may also include a lump-sum amount. Usually, if you get worker's compensation benefits you give up your right to sue your employer for more money. To learn more about worker's compensation benefits, see Nolo's Your Right to Workers' Comp Benefits FAQ.

The Energy Employees' Occupational Illness Compensation Act

Congress established this program in 2000 to provide benefits to employees and former employees of the Department of Energy who were exposed to beryllium or radiation while working at nuclear weapons sites. Employees of certain subcontractors and contractors of the Department of Energy are also covered, including "beryllium vendors."

The program, administered by the Department of Labor (DOL), provides lump-sum and health benefits to eligible workers and, in some cases, to the survivors of deceased workers. The program also covers the costs of medical monitoring for beryllium sensitivity. To learn more about the program, visit the DOL's website at www.dol.gov (click on "Workers Compensation" and then "Energy Employees' Illness Compensation Program").

Legal Claims

People who have gotten sick from beryllium exposure can bring a lawsuit to recover for medical expenses, lost wages, and other compensation. Who to sue and the causes of action that are available depend on how the plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) was exposed to beryllium. A single individual may bring a lawsuit, or a group of individuals with similar claims (perhaps a group of workers or residents of a town) may band together and bring a class action lawsuit. Different types of beryllium exposure lawsuits include:

  • Lawsuits on Behalf of Sick Workers. Employees exposed to beryllium may be able to sue their employer, the manufacturer of safety equipment that failed to protect them from beryllium exposure, and the manufacturer or distributor of materials containing beryllium. Generally, plaintiffs sue everyone and anyone remotely related to the exposure. (To learn more about potential defendants in a toxic tort case, see Nolo's article Toxic Torts Overview.) The specific elements that a plaintiff must prove in a beryllium toxic tort case vary depending on the legal theories employed. Possible claims include: negligence, strict liability, and fraud. (To learn about common legal theories used in toxic tort litigation, see Nolo's article Toxic Torts: Legal Theories of Liability.)
  • Lawsuits on Behalf of Exposed Workers. At least one class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of workers who have been exposed to beryllium on the job but have not yet become sick. The class of beryllium-exposed workers in this suit is seeking free medical screening and medical monitoring, so they can learn whether they have developed beryllium sensitivity or other health conditions that could affect them later on.
  • Lawsuits on Behalf of the General Public. When people are exposed to beryllium in non-workplace situations -- for example, when beryllium dust is released into the air by a nearby factory -- their only recourse is to bring a lawsuit, usually against the facility that is emitting the harmful dust. Causes of action in these cases might include negligence, strict liability, or intentional misrepresentation.

Getting Help

Legal claims involving beryllium exposure are usually not the kind of lawsuits in which you can represent yourself effectively. The legal and scientific issues in such cases are often complex and sophisticated. Depending on your case, you may wish to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in beryllium litigation.

You may also want to consult with a lawyer to find out if there is an existing beryllium class action lawsuit that you could join. (If there is an existing class action, consider contacting the lawyers for the class directly; they will likely be very interested in talking with you.) Such initial consultations are usually free of charge.

For help in choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience, if any, with toxic tort litigation or beryllium exposure).

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by: , J.D.

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