NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Simply Worrying About Asbestos Could Get You Millions

April 2, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a jury award to workers who claimed emotional distress over their exposure to asbestos.

  • A West Virginia court had ordered the Norfolk & Western Railway Co. -- now owned by Norfolk Southern Corp. -- to pay six workers $5.8 million, partly over their fears about contracting cancer from asbestos encountered on the job.
  • In its petition to the court, the railroad argued that the plaintiffs in the case "presented no objective proof of any emotional injury."
  • In a 1997 case, the Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs could not recover damages related to the fear of developing asbestos-related cancer if they couldn't prove a "physical impact."
  • Plaintiffs' lawyers contend they have to sue early in such cases, because the statute of limitations might run out before an asbestos-related cancer manifests itself.

But Victor Schwartz, a Washington lawyer and product liability expert, argues that if courts "allow compensation for future worries, we're really going to break the bank of more and more companies."

Source: Robert S. Greenberger, "Supreme Court to Review Award to Workers for Fear Over Asbestos," Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2002.

 

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