NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Time Hasn't Insulated Asbestos Makers From Claims

February 7, 2001

Even though asbestos hasn't been used in products since the mid-1970s, more claims are being filed against manufacturers than ever before. Experts point to several reasons for the recent surge. Among them: it can take several decades for asbestos-related illnesses to develop; plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking out more claimants; and the organization established to broker settlements may have inadvertently encouraged attorneys to file even more claims.

  • Companies say they have paid out well over $10 billion in settlements -- forcing 26 major companies to file for bankruptcy-court protection.
  • In 1999, there were about 275,000 claims either in the process of settlement or being tried in court.
  • About 40,000 asbestos suits are filed each year.

The Center for Claims Responsibility was established by asbestos makers in Princeton, N.J., in 1988 for the purpose of brokering settlements. But it stopped doing so on February 1, at the request of its member companies. By facilitating the settlement process, the center had become too tempting a target for plaintiffs' lawyers.

Tort reform expert and attorney David Bernick describes the center as a "Field of Dreams" strategy. "If you build a field, the players will come," he says.

The center settled more than 350,000 claims and paid out more than $5 billion on behalf of its member companies.

But observers say CCR processed claims with too little examination of their merits. Now some CCR members are following another strategy -- no longer settling with people who are not medically impaired or who weren't exposed to their products.

Source: Quenna Sook Kim, "Asbestos Claims Continue to Mount," Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2001.

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