Asbestos Claims Out of Control
July 18, 2002
Asbestos litigation is getting out of control, observers say, as large numbers of healthy claimants are collecting money that is undeserved, while crowding out those people who suffer from genuine asbestos ailments.
There has been a recent explosion in asbestos litigation:
- Between 1993 and 1999 the number of pending cases nationwide doubled from 100,000 cases to more than 200,000 cases.
- Analysts predict that up to 700,000 more cases will be filed by 2050.
The problem with this deluge of cases, critics say, is that the majority are not suffering any ailments. Most new asbestos claimants -- perhaps as high as 90 percent -- are only mildly impaired or not sick at all. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Weiner, who oversees the federal asbestos multi-district proceedings, has explained that, "only a very small percentage of the cases filed have serious asbestos-related afflictions." These healthy claimants divert legal attention and economic resources away from the claimants with severe asbestos disabilities now.
Moreover, these healthy claimants are forcing companies into bankruptcy by receiving huge awards:
- In November 2001, a Texas jury awarded $3 million to three plaintiffs who were exposed to asbestos, but had no injury.
- Months earlier another Texas jury awarded 22 plaintiffs $35 million for "future physical impairment" and "future medical costs," although it is likely that they will never be seriously ill.
These massive awards force companies into bankruptcy, preventing genuine victims from receiving compensation for their loss. Critics believe states should implement venue reform and docket reform to prioritize genuine victims of asbestos and to prevent people from suing in high payout states.
Source: Mark A. Behrens and Richard O. Faulk, "The Asbestos Litigation Crisis," ALEC Policy Forum, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 2002.
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