Firefighter Foam Exposure Caused Fatal T-Cell Lymphoma, Wrongful Death Lawsuit Alleges

Lawsuit alleges that a firefighter from Kentucky fought cancer for two years before his death in September 2023, due to a form of leukemia caused by AFFF foam used during his career.

The wife of a deceased firefighter has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 3M Company and various other fire safety equipment manufacturers, indicating that exposure to firefighting foam caused his death from angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma.

The complaint (PDF) was brought by Elizabeth Hernandez in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on May 3, on behalf of herself and her husband Mark Hernandez, who died in September 2023 from a rare form of cancer linked to chemicals contained in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) commonly used by firefighters.

AFFF has been sold for decades with a number of toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are known to increase the risk of cancer and various other injuries.

The firefighting foam has been commonly used by the U.S. military and local fire departments to combat fuel based fires, but the manufacturers now face a growing number of product liability lawsuits alleging that they failed to disclose the risks that firefighters may face from AFFF exposure, as well as health problems caused by widespread water contamination from the chemicals.

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Firefighting Foam Lawsuits

Exposure to firefighting foam chemicals may result in an increased risk of cancer for firefighters, military and airport personnel.

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AFFF Caused T-Cell Lymphoma Diagnosis

Elizabeth Hernandez indicates that her husband was exposed to AFFF while serving as a firefighter at Kenton County Airport in Boone County, Kentucky. The complaint indicates that throughout his service, Hernandez participated in routine training and firefighting activities, during which he was exposed to, and ingested, AFFF and other chemicals.

In November 2021, he was diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, which his wife claims was caused by the firefighter foam exposure. However, the lawsuit alleges that Hernandez was never warned about the potential health risks from AFFF at any point during his training or career.

As a result of the diagnosis, he underwent chemotherapy from the time of his diagnosis until his death, a little less than two years later.

“On or around May 4, 2023, Decedent Hernandez discovered that his cancer was caused by exposure to Defendants’ AFFF and AFFF-related fluorochemical products,” the lawsuit states. “Decedent Hernandez suffered the effects of his illness proximately caused by exposure to Defendants’ fluorochemical products, until his death.”

Hernandez’s complaint joins other firefighter foam exposure lawsuits now being filed by former firefighters, as well as individuals who lived around military bases, airports and other locations where the chemical fire suppressants were regularly released into the environment, raising allegations that exposure to the chemicals in AFFF caused various cancers, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, thyroid cancer and other injuries.

May 2024 AFFF Lawsuit Update

Given common questions of fact and law presented in the claims, all AFFF lawsuits are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel in the District of South Carolina, for coordinated discovery, pretrial proceedings and a series of early bellwether trials.

Last year, Judge Gergel established a bellwether process where a small group of lawsuits are going through case-specific discovery and pretrial motions in preparation for a series of early trial dates, which will be used to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

While the outcome of these early bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other claims, it is expected that the amount of any AFFF lawsuit payout awarded by juries may influence future firefighter cancer settlement negotiations to resolve the litigation.

In addition to individual lawsuits brought by firefighters diagnosed with cancer and injuries caused by drinking contaminated water, the manufacturers also faced thousands of AFFF water provider lawsuits brought by cities, states and municipalities nationwide, seeking damages for the costs associated with removing the toxic chemicals from local water supplies

In June 2023, 3M Company agreed to pay over $12.5 billion in an AFFF water contamination settlement, to resolve claims brought by local water suppliers. However, there have not been any reported settlements in AFFF injury lawsuits, and none of those individual claims have yet gone before a jury.

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