2011 Asbestos Legal News (And What It Means for You)

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Asbestos legal developments have made headlines since the first asbestos lawsuits were filed forty years ago. 2011 was no exception.

As we count down to 2012, let’s roll back the calendar to review some of 2011’s asbestos news.

We’ll also explain why these developments will remain important in the New Year.

January: Turkey Bans Asbestos

As we welcomed 2011, Turkey banned the production, use, and supply of products containing asbestos. The move added Turkey to a group of 55 countries with national asbestos bans.

Why It’s Important: The U.S. has yet to completely ban the production and sale of products that contain asbestos. Regulations have been passed to limit the use of asbestos, but the hazardous material continues to threaten public health.

February: Know Your Rights If You’re Exposed to Asbestos at Work

A research study of 8,632 power plant employees who were exposed to asbestos revealed that they worked in unsafe conditions. Over 80% of the subjects worked in plants with no established safety precautions.

Why It’s Important: Workplace exposure to asbestos has claimed countless lives since the early 20th century. If you suffer from an asbestos-related illness caused by workplace exposure, contact a mesothelioma lawyer to learn about your legal options.

Worker’s compensation may provide financial assistance. However, a tort lawsuit may provide more substantial compensation for your medical expenses. A mesothelioma lawyer can help you evaluate your options and decide what’s best for you.

March: Libby Lawsuit Nears Resolution

In March, news spread that Libby asbestos victims were close to a settlement with the State of Montana. Over 1000 Libby residents and former mine workers sued the state for failing to warn them of asbestos dangers in the W.R. Grace & Co. mines. The lawsuit was filed a decade ago.

A settlement offer was made in 2009. Negotiations reportedly stalled when three people objected to the proposed settlement terms. Once the details were resolved, the court had to approve the settlement. The $43 million settlement was eventually approved in September 2011.

Why It’s Important: It takes to time to resolve disputes involving several claimants. First the parties have to agree on settlement terms. Then the court must make sure all of the claimant’s interests are properly represented. Be sure to talk to a mesothelioma attorney about the consequences of participating in a class action or other lawsuit with several claimants.

It’s also a good idea to consult a lawyer for any type of lawsuit. A mesothelioma attorney can explain the case process, help you file a claim, and possibly negotiate a settlement.

April: Insurer Offloads Its Asbestos Liability

In April, one of the country’s largest insurers paid Berkshire Hathaway $1.65 billion to take over its asbestos liabilities. Insurers have paid over $30 billion in asbestos liability claims since 1991.

Why It’s Important: Asbestos litigation defendants rely on liability insurance to help them pay asbestos lawsuit verdicts and settlements. That is why insurers influence whether companies are willing to settle and how much they are willing to pay. Although you may only be aware of a few players, the negotiation table is actually crowded with defendants, insurers and their lawyers. A qualified mesothelioma attorney can represent you in court and at the settlement table.

May: Abatement Companies Must Protect Workers

Asbestos abatement is intended to prevent future exposure to asbestos. But it’s a very dangerous job. Failure to remove or contain asbestos properly can prove deadly for abatement workers.

In May, a $1.2 million fine sent a strong message to companies involved in asbestos removal: Failing to protect your workers will cost you. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) imposed the fine on an Illinois-based company for failing to take basic safety measures to protect its workers.

Why It’s Important: If your work involves removing or containing asbestos, remember that the law requires your employer to make your safety its priority. You must receive safety equipment and adequate training to help you do your job safely. Your state or local health department can provide more information about your employer’s responsibilities.

June: Smokers May Also Be Eligible for Asbestos Compensation

People often associate lung cancer with smoking. But it’s not the only cause. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer.

In June, a New York jury awarded $22 million to the families of two former Goodyear employees who developed lung cancer after working with asbestos-containing gaskets. Although both men were smokers, the jury found that asbestos exposure partially contributed to their illnesses.

Why It’s Important: A history of smoking does not necessarily rule out asbestos exposure as a contributing factor for lung cancer. A mesothelioma lawyer can explain how smoking may affect your claim (e.g., the type of evidence required to support your claim or the amount of compensation available for your injuries). But don’t assume that smoking will prevent you from filing an asbestos claim.

July: New Claims Expected, But There Are Limits on Who Can File

New asbestos claims are expected for many years to come. In July, Hartford Financial Services Group reported higher than expected asbestos claims during the second quarter. Other major insurers made similar reports over the summer.

Meanwhile, a Delaware court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired for a family whose father died because of mesothelioma. Over a decade later, the family tried to file a lawsuit after they learned that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. But the court ruled that the family had missed its chance to file a claim.

Why It’s Important: Each year, thousands of people find out they have been injured by asbestos. It’s important to know your legal rights. You have a limited amount of time after diagnosis to file a lawsuit. Contact a mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible for more information about filing a legal claim.

August: Beware of Asbestos Risks Following Natural Disasters

Clean-up efforts were in full swing across the U.S. by late August. During the spring, severe flooding and tornadoes devastated parts of the country. By late summer, the first major hurricanes of the 2011 season, more flooding, and an unexpected earthquake also left the South, Midwest and Eastern U.S. reeling.

State and local health departments launched efforts to warn about the presence of asbestos in the debris. Meanwhile, several schools and businesses closed while engineers inspected the damage, including possible asbestos exposure.

Why It’s Important: Homeowners and business owners must exercise caution when cleaning up structural damage. You can’t just toss asbestos-laden debris in the trash and forget about it. Governments regulate how asbestos is handled and who can remove it. Ignoring these rules can be costly to your wallet and your health. If disaster strikes, contact your local health department to find out what precautions you should take.

September: Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts Make Headlines

Asbestos bankruptcy trusts made news in Washington, D.C. in 2011. These trusts are established to pay current and future claims against companies that have filed for bankruptcy reorganization. In September, a Congressional hearing was held on fraud in the asbestos compensation system. Asbestos bankruptcy trusts, in particular, became a hot topic for discussion.

Weeks later, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on how asbestos compensation trusts compensate victims. Trusts have an estimated $36.8 million available to pay asbestos claims.

Why It’s Important: Asbestos bankruptcy trusts are a legitimate part of the asbestos compensation system. Although trusts sometimes came up during discussions about fraudulent claims in 2011, trusts and fraud are really two separate issues. Asbestos lawsuit defendants want more information about trust payments that can be used to offset their own liabilities. They raise concerns about preventing fraud to justify getting that information.

A mesothelioma attorney can help you find out whether you have a claim against a company that has filed for reorganization and established a trust. A mesothelioma attorney can also explain the trust claim process and how a trust claim may affect an asbestos lawsuit.

October: 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Opens

In early October, registration began for the federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The program compensates people who became seriously ill as a result of exposure to toxic materials at 9/11 sites. VCF claims must be filed by October 3, 2013.

Why It’s Important: Asbestos was among the toxic particles that blanketed 9/11 sites. It can take up to 50 years to develop symptoms of mesothelioma – long after VCF claims are due. If you or someone you know was exposed to 9/11 pollutants, monitor the VCF website for any guidance that may be made available on dealing with future claims.

November: Asbestos Case Settlement Is Largest in Missouri History

The family of a Missouri courthouse employee settled an asbestos lawsuit with the state. Nancy Lopez was exposed to asbestos exposure during renovations at the courthouse where she worked. She died of mesothelioma last year. The settlement, worth over $10 million, is the largest asbestos settlement in Missouri history.

Why It’s Important: This settlement is significant not only because of the amount, but also because the information was made public. The details of most asbestos lawsuit settlements are kept private as a condition of the settlement.

Keep in mind that every case is different and there is no guarantee that your claim will result in such a huge award. If asbestos exposure has harmed you or your loved one, it’s best to talk to a mesothelioma attorney about your case.

December: Asbestos Continues to Make Legal News

As the year ends, asbestos issues continue to make legal news. Expect to hear more about these and other legal developments in 2012:

  • A federal judicial panel has decided to end a long-standing case management practice. A 1991 decision transferred all pending asbestos personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed in federal court to a single judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The panel found that the transfers helped reduce a major backlog of cases. Some asbestos cases will remain in the Eastern District, but the practice of centralizing all federal asbestos cases with one judge will end.
  • A Washington jury awarded $1.45 million to Roger Hammett. Mr. Hammett was exposed to asbestos while working aboard the SS Seattle for only two months. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma forty years later. The case is believed to the first case involving such a short period of exposure.

Why It’s Important: Asbestos litigation has been around for decades. But there are new laws, court rules and other legal developments every year. Always talk to a mesothelioma lawyer about your specific case. You can also visit Asbestos.com for general legal news.

We look forward to keeping you informed in 2012.


Karen Marshall has more than 17 years of legal experience and is an attorney with The Peterson Firm. She has been contributing to The Mesothelioma Center since 2011 and writes about asbestos-related legal issues and blogs for Asbestos.com.

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