Posted on November 30, 2009 in Personal Injury
In the 1970’s, asbestos litigation pitted plaintiffs exposed to asbestos in the workplace and in the home against the asbestos industry, the manufacturers and employers who were responsible for the exposure and their insurers. Initially, the asbestos industry met the lawsuits with legal challenges on every front, arguing that: the workers’ sole remedy was worker’s compensation; that the product was as safe as could be made; that the industry was unaware of the dangers of asbestos.
Documents and testimony exposed that the industry had been and remained aware of the hazards of asbestos as far back as the 1930’s, and evidence of attempts to cover up the dangers both for the workers and in courtroom proceedings led to enormous settlements and verdicts in favor of the injured plaintiffs. The response of many of the largest manufacturers or users of asbestos, those facing great liability, was to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Consequently, many asbestos cases have been heard in bankruptcy court.
Originally, bankruptcy litigation was brought in federal court. Cases have now moved to the state level. Laws vary from state to state as to when an action must be brought, where it may be brought, and against whom or which entity. Each state has its own statute of limitations that determines the time limit for filing an action (a time period that generally begins to run upon discovery – diagnosis – of the illness).
Because the symptoms for asbestos-related disease generally do not manifest until decades after exposure, unraveling the corporate defendants over those decades can be very difficult. A company may have been bought and sold a number of times over the years, and researching the trail of responsibility can be very difficult.
Some states have put, or are seeking to put, caps on awards given in personal injury cases. Punitive damages may be allowed, but there are a number of courts, well-known to plaintiffs’ lawyers, which routinely reduce any such awards.
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In the 1970’s, asbestos litigation pitted plaintiffs exposed to asbestos in the workplace and in the home against the asbestos industry, the manufacturers and employers who were responsible for the exposure and their insurers.