The Changing Landscape of Asbestos Litigation through the years

June 17, 2014 Mark

The Changing Landscape of Asbestos Litigation through the years

Due to the large number of lawsuits that have been filed over the years, judges have consistently urged Congress to establish significant asbestos litigation reforms [1]. Throughout the early 1980s, lawyers and judges had begun implementing court-based tort reform in order to establish rules and strict procedures that regulated the asbestos litigation process [1]. More specifically, the tort reform made it difficult for people with asbestos-related conditions to file lawsuits and obtain a trial by jury, and it placed limits on the amount of money they could receive from a lawsuit. In 1991, a judicial conference was held in which congress discussed strategies that would allow the extreme number of asbestos cases to be resolved, stating that the number of lawsuits filed defied customary judicial practices [2].

 

The discussion regarding better procedures for asbestos lawsuits continued until 2005 when the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act (FAIR Act) was proposed in order to replace the tort litigation process with a $140 billion no-fault, trust fund that would compensate individuals with asbestos conditions who met specific medical criteria [1]. This led to a debate regarding how the federal government would be able to avoid bankruptcy due to the number of pending lawsuits and how assets would be preserved for future claimants. In addition, the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) strongly opposed the idea of a federal trust fund that would eliminate tort suits as this would also reduce the need for patients to hire attorneys.

 

The complicated nature of asbestos litigation resulted in different specializations among lawyers and those who specialized in cancer cases heartily opposed the trust fund, but favored legislation that would prioritize their clients’ claims by establishing medical criteria [3]. In contrast, large-inventory lawyers generally preferred the status quo that accompanied the trust fund because they could obtain higher settlements if they packaged several asbestos-induced mesothelioma claims with a large number of lawsuits whose claimants had been exposed to asbestos but had not begun to suffer from asbestos-related diseases.

 

The constantly changing dynamics led to a layered litigation structure that includes the tort system, private group settlements, worker’s compensation programs, and ad hoc arrangements established by the courts. Currently, this is still the asbestos-injury compensation structure that is in place.

 

If you are suffering from an asbestos-related condition and would like information regarding your legal rights or possible financial compensation please contact us.
References

  1. Barnes J. (2007). Rethinking the landscape of the tort reform: Legislative inertia and court-based tort reform in the case of asbestos. The Justice System Journal, 28(2): 157-182. Retrieved from http://www.ncsc.org/publications-and-library/justice-system-journal/~/media/files/pdf/publications/justice system journal/rethinking tort reform.ashx
  2. Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Committee (1991). Report of the Judicial Conference on Asbestos Litigation. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  3. Burke, T. F. (2002). Lawyers, Lawsuits, and Legal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.