NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Asbestos Lottery For Lawyers

December 16, 2002

Asbestos litigation is a clear example of lawyers abusing the law, observers say. They argue that lawyers are milking the system at the expense of the genuinely harmed.

Since 1973, asbestos use dropped sharply:

  • In 2001, it was only 3 percent of its 1973 peak.
  • However, instead of shrinking, the amount of litigation involving asbestos sky rocketed.
  • By 2000, asbestos claims totaled 600,000 and were rising by about 50,000 a year.

The reason for this jump in litigation is that most claimants aren't sick. Trial lawyers actively recruit claimants without major ailments and then target specific state courts and regions with loose liability laws and a history of huge payouts. Texas, Mississippi, and West Virginia are the biggest offenders.

Already, asbestos claims have cost $54 billion, with trial lawyers receiving 57 percent. Projections of the ultimate costs now range from $200 billion to $275 billion, with between 1 and 3 million claimants. Both are likely to be underestimated.

The lawsuits have forced many companies to declare bankruptcy. Once this happens, then they cannot be sued for any damage done, regardless if the damage is serious. Already 50 have done so, with one-third in the past year.

Critics argue it's time for Congress to step in to control this abuse.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Asbestos Fraud," Washington Post, November 20, 2002.


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