NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Glimmers of Hope in Asbestos-Liability Swamp

September 17, 2002

The asbestos-liability mess has already cost the economy more than 9/11, Enron and WorldCom put together -- upward of $200 billion.

According to a new report from the Rand Institute for Civil Justice:

  • Some 85 percent of U.S. industry is now in the sights of asbestos-plaintiffs' lawyers.
  • Indirect costs so far total $10 billion in investments that will never be made, and 138,000 jobs which will never be created.
  • In just two years, 20 companies have been driven into bankruptcy -- even though 90 percent of plaintiffs aren't medically impaired.
  • Half or more of all claims are leveled at companies with only a nodding relationship with asbestos -- including the entire auto industry, simply because it employed asbestos in brake linings.

Congress hasn't responded. Now, however, the courts may.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a West Virginia verdict awarding $5.8 million to six plaintiffs who claimed emotional suffering from the fear they might one day get asbestos-related cancer.
  • In another West Virginia case, some of the 250 corporate defendants in a case involving 8,000 plaintiffs -- exhibiting every degree of illness or good health -- have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay to stop the trial.
  • In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court will soon consider the constitutionality of a state law that limits one type of a "successor" liability -- in other words, the responsibility of a company which buys another company with a former asbestos tie.

Observers are also encouraged that the Senate Judiciary Committee has agreed to hold an "informational" hearing on the crisis this fall.

Source: Editorial, "Lawyers for Asbestos Reform," Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2002.


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