PART TWO-In the Aftermath of Asbestos: Mesothelioma and the Law
In PART TWO of our series, we’ll explore the complex and sometimes convoluted field of asbestos mesothelioma law—including its history, current applications and issues related to the future.
Mesothelioma law revolves around what is often called the “toxic tort”—a type of personal injury claim involving a substance known to be hazardous to human health that was negligently exposed to the public. Other common toxic tort cases relate to certain pharmaceuticals, as well as biohazards like Agent Orange.
The History of Mesothelioma and the Law
Asbestos-related illnesses first became a concern of the American medical community in the early decades of the 21st century, and the first related lawsuit was filed in 1929. That case was settled, with an agreement between both the parties and their respective counsel, not to pursue further litigation.
Until the large-scale issuance of regulations on asbestos began to occur in the 1970s and 1980s—much of it, by government bureaus like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA)—asbestos legal issues were relatively far and far between.
After that point, however, litigation regarding personal injury due to asbestos exposure experienced a sudden and drastic rise of occurrence. To date, well over 700,000 claimants have brought cases against more than 8,000 defendants—making asbestos the source of the largest U.S.-based mass tort in history.
With asbestos-related illnesses being diagnosed at a rate of more than 10,000 per year, resulting lawsuits have become an ever-present fixture on civil court dockets—even reaching as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which has twice rejected attempts at settling asbestos injury cases via a massive class-action lawsuit.
The current standard for individual asbestos lawsuits is settlement—an out-of-court agreement reached between the two opposing parties to pay a negotiated sum of compensatory damages to the claimant. The average amount of such settlements is around one-million dollars.
Some cases do proceed to trial, but odds are not generally perceived to be on the defendants’ side in cases of documented asbestos injury following exposure.
Concerns about the Future of Mesothelioma Law
If the current trends continue, the overall cost of asbestos-injury litigation is projected to surpass $200 billion within the coming decades.
Efforts towards imposing federal regulation have been futile, but a currently pending piece of legislation—the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT)—is a current concern for victims’ advocacy organization and legal professionals alike.
Previous attempts, like 2003’s Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, have failed to reach initiation. But even if the FACT Act meets the same fate, it is expected that lobbyists for the manufacturing industry will continue to make attempts at securing government intervention.