Some Eye-Opening Asbestos-Litigation Facts
February 27, 2002
Many Americans have recently become aware of the enormity of the asbestos-litigation process and the horrendous threat it posses to the U.S. economy. Many understand the ridiculous spectacle of healthy plaintiffs suing companies that never made the stuff for injuries the plaintiffs never sustained.
They've probably heard the facts by now: that total corporate asbestos liability is expected to reach $200 billion; that the total number of claims may reach between 1.3 million and 3.1 million; and that since January 2000, 16 asbestos defendants have entered Chapter 11.
But here are a few lesser-known facts that may not have crossed many Americans' radar screens:
- It has been 20 to 30 years since most asbestos-containing products were phased out of production completely and instances of serious asbestosis began declining many years ago -- which prompted the 1994 edition of the medical text Occupational Lung Disorders to describe asbestosis as a "disappearing disease."
- Yet suits are surging, with filings against one defendant jumping from 31,000 in 1999 to more than 91,000 last year -- and almost all of that surge occurred among claimants alleging nonmalignant asbestos-related conditions comprised of the most subjective and least serious forms.
- Claims alleging injury from asbestos in brakes and clutches alone have soared 1,634 percent over the past two years.
- Each time another company seeks bankruptcy protection, the prospects for all the remaining companies worsen, since the bankrupt company passes most of its liability along to them under the principle of tort law known as joint and several liability -- which means that the last company remaining standing is forced to pay the entire remaining liability.
Source: Roger Parloff, "The $200 Billion Miscarriage of Justice," Fortune, March 4, 2002.
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