NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Shame on Asbestos Lawyers

November 21, 2002

By 2001, use of asbestos was only 3 percent of its 1973 peak. One would have thought that would cause asbestos litigation to phase out. Instead, suits now total 600,000 and are rising by about 50,000 a year, according to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice.

The reason this has happened is that claims are being paid to people who aren't sick.

  • So far, asbestos claims have cost $54 billion -- and less than half of that has gone to actual victims.
  • In the 1990s, they got only 43 percent -- with the lion's share going to the lawyers.
  • Projections of the ultimate costs now range from $200 billion to $275 billion -- and the final number of claimants is estimated at 1 million to 3 million people.
  • Suits have pushed more than 50 companies into bankruptcy and 6,000 companies have been sued.

Most people who sue suffer no impairment from asbestos. But trial lawyers actively recruit healthy claimants and sue in "friendly" states that have expansive liability laws. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America reports that 85 percent of cases are filed in just 10 states -- with Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia leading the pack.

Experts are calling upon Congress to clean up asbestos litigation that they equate with simple fraud. Federal legislation could preempt state laws on asbestos; it could set strict medical standards for damages; and it could put a cap on lawyers' fees. Such measures would put an end to the expensive joke lawyers are playing on the courts' and companies' expense, legal experts say.

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


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