KCIC Report: Mesothelioma Lawsuits on the Rise in US

Legislation & Litigation
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 09/29/2020

Written by Tim Povtak

While the incidence of malignant mesothelioma in the United States continued its gradual decline, the tendency to sue for damages drastically increased in recent years, according to a KCIC study.

Lawsuits filed by those stricken with the deadly asbestos-related cancer increased 65.7% from 2007 to 2017. Meanwhile, the overall incidence rate of mesothelioma dropped 16.2% during the same period.

KCIC, a well-regarded consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that manages asbestos product liabilities, published the study of mesothelioma and asbestos litigation last week. Study author Megan Shockley, senior manager at KCIC, was unavailable for comment on her findings.

Although most authorities believe both trends continue today, incidence data beyond 2017 was not yet available from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result database, the source known as SEER. The U.S. National Institutes of Health compiles SEER statistics.

“Nothing was really surprising in the report. It’s what you would have anticipated,” said Joseph Lahav, attorney and on-site legal advisor for The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com for more than a decade. “Those trends will probably hold steady. People are safer today. There is more awareness of the dangers of asbestos, and it’s just not out there as much. At the same time, people are much more aware of their legal options today.”

2017 Marked All-Time High in Mesothelioma Filings

According to KCIC, there was an all-time high of 2,124 legal filings for mesothelioma in 2017, which is the last year of the study.

The propensity to sue, which measures the likelihood of a person to file a lawsuit, more than countered the drop in the number of people being diagnosed with the disease, which is less than 3,000 annually.

“The data we collected shows a positive trend in the propensity to sue over time, meaning as time goes on, the percentage of the diseased population filing a lawsuit is increasing,” Shockley wrote in the study.

Tight regulations in the U.S. against asbestos have caused its use to drop significantly in recent decades, but the lengthy latency period of about 20 to 60 years between exposure and cancer diagnosis has prevented mesothelioma incidence from declining faster.

Asbestos Filings Increasing Among Women

Men are the predominant plaintiffs in mesothelioma legal filings because they were exposed in the workforce, which at the time was comprised mostly of blue-collar male workers.

Women diagnosed with mesothelioma usually developed the disease after secondary exposure. In most cases, these women were the mothers, wives and daughters who washed the clothes of their male family members who were directly exposed to asbestos on the job.

But the KCIC report shows that legal filings among women increased by 114.5%, compared to 55.3% among men.

One reason for the drastic increase in filings among women is the recent trend in litigation linking cosmetic talc, contaminated by asbestos, with mesothelioma and lung cancer. Women exposed to asbestos-contaminated talc have developed ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

There are more than 9,000 talc and asbestos cases currently pending, according to an earlier KCIC report. An estimated 500 of those cases involve mesothelioma.

Johnson & Johnson Faces Bulk of Asbestos Lawsuits

The first talc-related mesothelioma case was filed in 2016, and the number of legal filings have grown each year since. Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 15,000 lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada related to asbestos in its talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder.

Johnson & Johnson in June was ordered by a New Jersey jury to pay $750 million in punitive damages to four people who claimed their long-term use of Johnson’s Baby Powder caused their mesothelioma. The judge reduced the damages to $186.5 million. J&J filed an appeal.

Earlier this year, the pharmaceutical giant announced it would discontinue the product in North America.

Another reason for the uptick in mesothelioma filings, and likely the biggest, is the amount of legal advertising across multiple media outlets, including television and the internet.

“The increase in plaintiff firms marketing towards those with mesothelioma has created widespread awareness of asbestos litigation,” Shockley wrote. “At some point, the steady increase in propensity to sue will likely level off as plaintiff advertising saturates the population of those sadly suffering from asbestos-related disease.”

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