The aftermath of asbestos usage in the United States has left an often tragic and even devastating path of destruction for exposure victims. For close to 100 years, between the late 1800s and mid- to late-1900s, millions of people were unknowingly exposed to a toxic and potentially fatal material. Many were exposed at work, while others came into contact with asbestos in their own homes-either from building components used during construction or through a process called secondary exposure.
Life after asbestos goes on with no detectable consequences for many people. But for the small and unfortunate portion that develops an asbestos-linked illness-such as asbestosis, mesothelioma or other forms of cancer-life is never the same again. All of these chronic and pervasive conditions cause significant physical and emotional distress for the victim-and in the case of mesothelioma cancers, death.
There is much information available about asbestos, its consequences and options for legal recourses. The objective of this months’ blogs is to offer victims of asbestos an easy and straightforward guide that is designed to cover a myriad of topics-from veteran exposure and cutting-edge treatment options to choosing a legal representative and taking your personal injury case to court.
PART VIII: THE HISTORY OF MESOTHELIOMA LITIGATION
Mesothelioma litigation is still a fairly young legal specialty field, forming primarily over the course of the past two decades while also growing at an exponential rate. Though mesothelioma is the condition most commonly associated with asbestos liability, the first personal injury cases brought against manufacturers of asbestos-made products actually came from victims of other non-malignant conditions.
Early Litigation Involving Asbestos
The earliest legal action related to asbestos exposure in the U.S. occurred in the 1920s, though few people knew about it until decades later. Those first few cases involved workers’ compensation claims that were filed and settled in secrecy. The resulting agreements from those initial claims included language preventing both the plaintiffs and attorneys on both sides from filing any future legal action involving asbestos injury or liability-effectively placing a gag order on all partied involved and keeping asbestos well out of the public spotlight for nearly 50 years.
It wasn’t until the 1970s, when government regulation began to finally shed light on the dangers of working and living with asbestos, that the flood of litigation officially began-slowly at first but in full swing by the mid-1980s. The initial wave of personal injury cases brought by victims of asbestos did not cite mesothelioma but instead claimed other non-malignant conditions, in particular:
- Pleural scarring or thickening, which describes the build-up of scar tissue and/or plaques along the lining of the lungs and chest cavity
- Asbestosis, a respiratory condition caused by internal scarring of the lungs
Rapid-Fire Growth of Mesothelioma Litigation
It didn’t take long for once-thriving asbestos manufacturing companies, like Johns-Manville and Keene, to feel the consequences of litigation where it hurt them the most-their profit margin. In response, these industrial giants began filing bankruptcy in rapid succession, which at the time allowed them to escape most or all obligations tied to liability and legal actions against them.
Around the same time, mesothelioma litigation hit its peak with mass settlement groups joining together large numbers of individual lawsuits in an effort to get around the industry-friendly bankruptcy laws of the time. (Now, companies filing for bankruptcy are required to liquidate assets into asbestos trusts for paying out damages to future claimants-thus reducing the aforementioned need for group settlements.)
As more and more asbestos victims came forward, the asbestos legal debacle officially became the largest and longest mass tort in U.S. history. To date, more than 730,000 plaintiffs and 8,400 defendants have been counted-generating total costs that are expected to eventually reach $200 billion or more, according to analyst reports.