NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Victims of Asbestos Crowded Out by Healthy Claimants

April 25, 2002

In the past two years, desperately ill plaintiffs have been eclipsed by a huge and growing number of relatively healthy people seeking awards for possible future illnesses.

  • Since January 2000, the wave of less-severe claims has pushed at least 20 companies that sold or used asbestos into bankruptcy protection.
  • That's in addition to 40 other asbestos-related corporate bankruptcies since the mid-1970s.
  • Since there are fewer unencumbered companies left to pay claims, the sickest victims are now collecting far less than comparable victims did in the 1990s.
  • The Manville Personal Injury Trust -- which pays almost all asbestos claims -- reports that 89,438 new claims were logged against it last year alone, a rise of 54 percent over 2000.

Over the trust's 14-year life, 11 percent of claims have involved cancer. Last year, only 6.6 percent did.

Observers see no quick end in sight. Some companies that had only attenuated dealings with asbestos are being swamped with lawsuits because other potential targets are shielded by Chapter 11. While complaining that plaintiffs' lawyers are abusing the legal system with countless dubious claims, some companies continue to fight even the most seriously harmed plaintiffs -- adding further delay and expense.

Meanwhile, perennial discussion of congressional intervention to limit asbestos liability appears to be bogged down in a broader logjam over proposals to curb civil lawsuits.

Source: Susan Warren, "As Asbestos Mess Spreads, Sickest See Payouts Shrink," Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2002.


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