By: Andrew S. Wainwright, Esq.

Published on May 17, 2016

A California jury awarded $32.8 million dollars to a foundry worker and his wife for his developing mesothelioma after breathing asbestos while wearing a defective respirator sold by American Optical Corporation. Bill Tyler was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused only by asbestos, in 2015. The jury award included $10 million in punitive damages, the first time American Optical Corporation has been ordered to pay punitive (punishment) damages.

How was the plaintiff exposed to asbestos?

Bill Tyler, age 62, began working at Foundry Service and Supply in Torrance, California as a 19-year-old, from 1972 until 1992. He wore an American Optical Corporation mask for 17 years, believing it would protect him from breathing asbestos dust generated by foundry operations that included cutting Marinite boards that contained asbestos. However, American Optical Corporation knew that workers used its R2090 mask to protect against asbestos exposure, and knew that it was not designed to protect against asbestos. What they sold was a false sense of security. Tyler and his fellow workers thought they were protected from harm, and they were instead being exposed to harm.

Why didn’t American Optical R2090 respirators protect against asbestos exposure?

The R2090 respirator included a double head strap that to an ordinary consumer seemed to pull the mask tight enough against the face to protect against asbestos inhalation. But the mask was not designed for asbestos protection. It leaked around the edges, and deadly asbestos got in and was inhaled.

In addition, if there is sufficient asbestos in the atmosphere, even a high-quality respirator mask is not enough, by itself, to protect you from asbestos exposure. That’s why today asbestos removal is performed by workers wearing disposable gear over their respirators. This includes a suit, hood, gloves, and shoe covers. Before removing the gear, the worker is sprayed with water mist and all the gear must be removed while the respirator is still on. The entire outfit is sealed in asbestos waste containers before the mask is removed.

What were Tyler’s claims against American Optical?

Tyler sued American Optical for strict product liability, negligence, negligent failure to warn, concealment, and intentional misrepresentation. The jury ruled that American Optical knew its respirator would not protect against asbestos exposure, and hid that fact from Tyler and others who used the R2090 mask.

Is American Optical the only company that made respirators?

No, other companies also made dangerous respirators.  Thornton Law Firm has successfully prosecuted cases over the last 15 years for workers who alleged they wore defective respirators while cutting asbestos, and developed mesothelioma as a result.

Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M Co.) manufactured masks for use in workplaces where asbestos was being used, including the 8500 dust mask and the 8710 disposable respirator. (You’d probably recognize an 8710 – the disposable paper nose cone with a yellow headband and an aluminum piece that you could press to fit your nose.) 3M advertised that those masks would protect workers from dangerous dusts. Like American Optical, the 3M lawsuits allege that the devices did not provide adequate protection against workplace dust and asbestos particles. Both products have since been removed from the market by 3M Co.


Similarly, Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA) sold its Dustfoe 66 respirators and masks with the promise that they would provide protection from asbestos dust.  The Dustfoe 66 respirators were sold throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s and came in a tin box.  The respirator itself was notable for its triangle-shaped nosepiece.  While advertised that it could protect workers from asbestos, lawsuits allege the MSA Dustfoe 66 respirators did not provide the promised protection, and that MSA was aware of the defects.  Often, these respirators were worn by workers cutting asbestos-containing materials in machine and fabricating shops.

What can I do if I have developed mesothelioma after using a defective mask?

Thornton Law Firm has been fighting for asbestos victims since 1978, including lawsuits against the manufacturers of dangerous and defective masks and respirators. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any asbestos-related disease, count on New England’s leading mesothelioma law firm to get you the full compensation you are entitled to under the law. Call our toll free number 888-632-0108 or tell us your story here. All legal claims have short time limits so call now to protect your legal rights.