(US Law) Asbestos litigation is a growing area of tort law. With more than 27 million people in the United States having been exposed to asbestos in the workplace and over 100,000 deaths worldwide caused by asbestos-related diseases, there are at least 730,000 US lawsuits filed related to asbestos, many of which have been incorporated as part of the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under Case No. MDL-875. The projected cost of litigation is around $200 million, an amount that exceeds the Superfund cleanup program of the 1980s.
The abundance of litigation concerning asbestos-related injuries and deaths, many of which occurred years after initial and prolonged exposure to the substance, has caused the court dockets of the few courts handling this litigation to become backed up. The MDL in eastern Pennsylvania has 3,232 actions pending related to IN RE: Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI) and a total 192,036 actions filed historically, which is 54 percent of all MDL actions filed.
Factors Determining Success in Asbestos Cases
Success in asbestos filings made in the past relied on a standard based on the plaintiff’s exposure to the compound in any amount. Individuals with a prolonged exposure to asbestos, typically for a period of years, had more success with their cases than those who had an occasional or one-time exposure. The time it took from exposure to asbestos and the manifestation of an asbestos-related condition or disease may also be taken into consideration. A plaintiff’s attorney may argue a direct cause/effect relationship between the exposure and disease, while defendants argue that manifestation of an asbestos-related disease could have occurred organically or environmentally, separate from any incidental or long-term exposure.
In the case Diane K. Betz, et al. v. Pneumo Abex LLC et al. (No. 38 WAP 2010, Pa Sup.), the defendants successfully appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on a motion to disallow the use of an “any exposure” standard for asbestos, instead favoring a stricter causation standard based on dose exposure to the compound. This ruling makes clear that a plaintiff’s attorney cannot make conflicting arguments as to the effect of asbestos exposure and a resulting asbestos-related disease. Additionally, finding a mesothelioma law firm to provide adequate assistance for filing a mesothelioma lawsuit can also be challenging, but this is just as important for the success of a claim.
Evidence Required to Proceed with a Claim
The use of a stricter dose responsive standard for asbestos exposure, as ruled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, may not necessarily put a chill on future tort claims against the manufacturers of asbestos-based products. If a plaintiff can show that the exposure to asbestos led to the genotoxic and carcinogenic responses that produced an asbestos-related disease (i.e. fibrosis, asbestosis, asbestos-related cancer, or mesothelioma), chances of prevailing are higher than if a plaintiff is unable to show such causal relationship.
Procedures Changes for Asbestos Lawsuits
Many of the large tort actions against the 8,400 or asbestos defendants have been tied up in the Eastern Pennsylvania MDL for close to twenty years in some instances. Three procedural innovations have impacted the way in which many cases have been filed and ultimately decided. These procedures are consolidated trials (simultaneous trials involving multiple plaintiffs), bifurcation (single trial divided in multiple phases), and bouquet trials (small groups selected from a large group of plaintiffs). Bifurcation and bouquet trials result in an increase in expected returns for a plaintiff of $650,000 and $1.2 million (respectively). Large consolidations resulted in lower award amounts from juries.
About the author
Dillon Finch is a freelance writer based in Omaha, Nebraska who focuses on law, politics, history & sociology.