Buffalo Lawmakers Okay Settling Cancer Suit Related To Mesothelioma

11:21 AM, May 5, 2011   |    comments
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  • Mesothelioma: Tumors in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body's internal organs.
  • Buffalo Common Council on 5/3/11

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Pending the approval of the city's financial control board, a former Buffalo police officer, described as being in the final stages of a rare type of cancer, will be awarded $1.7 million to settle a $7 million dollar lawsuit filed against the city.

Attorneys for William J. Rieman filed the suit and members of the Common Council, on the advice of city attorneys, voted in favor of the settlement after being presented with what one of them called "compelling" evidence that Riemen's cancer --malignant mesothelioma - may have been caused by inhaling asbestos fibers while working in one or more city-owned buildings.

"The State of New York had already awarded Officer Rieman's disability claim based on the likelihood his cancer may have been caused by his workplace environment. Given that, we agreed with our lawyers that a settlement was the best option in this case," said Council Claims Committee Chairman David A. Rivera.

Rieman, 44, was diagnosed in 2008 after roughly 20 years as a city worker, the last 14 of those as a police officer, and according to Rivera, worked in several city-owned buildings which at one point were found to have contained asbestos.

Rivera explained that because the city is self insured, the settlement would be paid for with taxpayer money.

"It's not an easy thing to do to settle for $1.7 million. There has to be really compelling reasons, ...it's tax payer dollars and we want to make sure that we're fiscally responsible."

Through a city spokesman, the city's legal department declined comment, as did Rieman's lawyer, as the settlement is still pending. Rivera says, all things considered, he'd have a hard time believing the city control board won't sign off on it.

Mayor Byron Brown also declined to comment.

Dr. Sai Yendamuri of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who specializes in cases of mesothelioma, tells WGRZ TV, "the only known or proven causative for mesothelioma is asbestos," adding that in the cases he's seen, "90% of the time we can find a clear cut history of sustained asbestos exposure and this disease."

There's something else about mesothelioma which is enough to cause lawmakers to consider the potential for future lawsuits.

"It takes between 20 and 50 years after exposure for this cancer to actually develop," explained Dr. Yendamuri 

Thus, Rivera says he and other lawmakers are well aware of the possibility that others may come forward, considering the number of buildings the city owns, and the tens of thousands of employees who have worked in them over the years.

"Absolutely we worry about it...right now we don't know of any other reports of any incident similar to this, but you never know," Rivera told 2 On Your Side. 

But such fears may be tempered by the rarity of the disease.

"There are only about 2,000 to 3,000 cases a year diagnosed in the United States...compared to lung cancer, for example, where over 200,000 cases are diagnosed every year," Dr. Yendamuri said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher.

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