Asbestos Suits Threaten to Swamp Courts
February 15, 2002
American industries and the courts are desperately in need of rescue from an out-of-control avalanche of asbestos lawsuits. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has argued for years that asbestos litigation has swollen to such ungainly proportions that the courts can no longer sensibly handle it. Just one company, Halliburton, has been hit with 250,000 suits, and observers believe without reform it's only going to get worse.
- Although Enron is in the spotlight for completely different reasons, experts warn that more jobs and pensions are under threat from asbestos than from any 10 Enrons.
- A study by the Rand Institute of Justice has estimated that the 500,000 asbestos claims filed so far represent less than half the eventual total.
- Many companies which had nothing to do with asbestos -- but which were unfortunate enough to acquire one which had some vague liability -- are being sued and their continued financial viability seriously threatened.
- Many claimants show no signs of asbestos-related illnesses -- only the debatable claim of previous exposure - but collect tens of millions of dollars from vulnerable corporations.
Resolving all these claims under the present system could end up costing $275 billion, leaving the landscape littered with the carcasses of defunct corporations. Meanwhile, the primary beneficiaries are lawyers and their armies of medical and expert hangers-on, while the truly ill often die without compensation thanks to the backlog of cases.
Source: Editorial, "Bush and Asbestos," Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2002.
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