Asbestos Litigation in the U.S.
The report: Asbestos Litigation in the U.S.: A New Look at an Old Issue published in August, 2001 by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice is an attempt to quantify and understand the scale of the national asbestos problem. Co-authors D Hensler, S Carroll, M White and J Gross use data from multiple sources to describe a situation in which:
500,000 personal injury claims for asbestos injuries have been filed;
twice as many future claims are expected;
solvent asbestos defendants are likely to be bankrupt within two years.
Hampered by the lack of a centralized information source, the authors interviewed "plaintiff attorneys, corporate counsel, outside defense counsel, insurance company claims managers, investment analysts, and court-appointed neutrals." Information was also obtained from company accounts and government filings. It was concluded that while "no one knows (the) total amount spent to date to resolve asbestos claims," analysts predict that the final figure paid by insurers and defendants could reach $200 billion.
Attempting to answer the key question: "How did we get here," the authors point out that:
between 1940-1979, an estimated 27 million people experienced occupational exposure to asbestos;
statutes of limitation in many states require that asbestos lawsuits be filed within a set time of diagnosis; this encouraged many workers, not yet disabled, to seek compensation;
after the Supreme Court rejection of a class action asbestos settlement, "most parties adjudged that a global settlement of asbestos claims outside of the bankruptcy courts would not be possible."
One finding of the study is particularly disturbing in light of recent declarations of Chapter 11 by major U.S. asbestos defendants such as Federal-Mogul/T&N, Ltd. On average, the time between filing a bankruptcy petition and confirmation of court-approved reorganization plans is six years. Although National Gypsum, Keene, Rock Wool took three years, 48 Insulations took ten years. The length of time required before reorganized corporations paid compensation claims is considerably longer; in the case of Johns-Manville, it took thirteen years from the filing of its bankruptcy petition (1982) till payments to claimants were resumed in 1995.
The briefing is available at: http://www.rang.org/publications/DB/DB362.0/
November 12, 2001