Asbestos victims need legal triage

By Jon Opelt
Emergency room doctors and nurses understand priority. Patients most in need of medical attention are the first to be treated. It doesn’t matter who entered the emergency room first. Those who are most severely injured get priority attention. This is as is should be.

Unfortunately, our courts don’t operate with that same sense of priority. This is especially true in the handling of asbestos cases, which are growing at an estimated 50,000 claims per month nationally.

People who are not sick and probably never will be sick from asbestos exposure, account for 80 to 90 percent of all asbestos-related claims. The sheer enormity of these premature claims is delaying justice for those seriously ill.

Six years ago, the United States Supreme Court said that this country was in the midst of an “asbestos-litigation crisis”. Since that time, the litigation has accelerated. In fact, according to former United States Attorney General Griffin Bell, “the crisis is worsening at a much more rapid pace than even the most pessimistic projections.”

The increasing caseload is not due to lack of trials and settlements. Rather, it is the result of a flood of new asbestos claims, the overwhelming bulk of which are by individuals who have no illness and no impairment.

The sick and dying are receiving far less compensation than they deserve, while thousands of bogus asbestos claims are pending in our courts and siphoning funds from the very people who most need protection, the severely ill.

Our mishandling of the asbestos litigation crisis has been nothing short of scandalous.

With many of the original asbestos defendants in bankruptcy, personal injury lawyers have been casting a wide net, targeting employers with only remote connections to the mineral. So many businesses have been driven into bankruptcy that those truly injured may be left without anyone from whom to collect.

Troubled by this unfairness, many out-of-state judges have found a solution to the asbestos crisis by creating inactive dockets.

In such jurisdictions as Baltimore, Chicago, New York City and the entire state of Massachusetts, those most severally ill are moved to the front of the line so that they can have their asbestos case heard. Those without medically-verifiable injuries are removed from the active docket and cannot sue until and unless they exhibit illness based upon objective medical findings.

This very concept was adopted in February by the American Bar Association.

The inactive docket does three important things: It gives priority to the claims of those who are severely ill, preserves assets so that future claimants will have someone to collect from, and preserves the cases for individuals who are not presently sick but might become sick at a future date.

That is the very sense of urgency and priority the asbestos litigation emergency requires.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

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