The National Law Journal – Never-ending asbestos quagmire

By Lisa Rickard, president of the Institute for Legal Reform

“It began on Dec. 10, 1966, at a courthouse in Beaumont, Texas. Attorney Ward Stephenson filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a client suffering from asbestosis, against 11 manufacturers of products containing asbestos. Though a jury ruled for the defendants in this first case, Stephenson tried again with a different client, and in 1973 a jury awarded Stephenson’s plaintiff $79,436.24 in damages.

Thus began the largest and most expensive mass tort litigation in history. During the next 40 years, hundreds of thousands of asbestos exposure lawsuits were filed against businesses, large and small, in nearly every state. By 2002, more than $79 billion in damages had been paid out to an estimated 730,000 claimants. The cost of this litigation contributed to the bankruptcies of nearly one hundred companies, employing tens of thousands of workers.

For decades, experts have predicted that the flood of asbestos claims would eventually decrease. After all, the use of asbestos declined rapidly beginning in the 1970s, a development that would presumably lead to a decrease in cases of mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases.

Yet asbestos litigation costs show no signs of decreasing. In fact, they appear to be increasing.”

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