The History of Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Despite growing awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure since the early 1930s, mesothelioma lawsuits did not increase until the 1980s. Since then, mesothelioma litigation has constantly evolved.

Prior to 1982, when asbestos litigation was beginning to increase, a great deal of legal attention was placed on non-malignant cases, including lawsuits for asbestosis and scarring of the lining of the chest cavity. Many of these early lawsuits came from individuals in occupations such as pipe insulation, shipyard word and construction. Non-malignant cases among other occupations, such as steam fitters and oil refinery workers, increased soon after. Surprisingly, mesothelioma and asbestos cancer lawsuits made up only a small number of total asbestos claims at this time.

Soon this influx of non-malignant cases was followed by the bankruptcy of large corporations that had manufactured asbestos products, most of whom did not warn properly employees about the dangers of asbestos exposure. Some of these notorious companies included Keene, Johns-Manville, Unarco and Eagle-Picher. At the time, the bankruptcies allowed the companies to eliminate any commitments for unliquidated personal injury claims, including mesothelioma and asbestos lawsuits, filed by their employees.

As a result of the bankruptcies, mesothelioma lawsuits were settled as groups in the form of mass settlements. The bankruptcies required plaintiffs to submit their claims to a settlement trust, which would pay all present and future claims. These mass settlements soon evolved into matrix payments, which was a new solution to solving mesothelioma lawsuits. This method involved the submission of medical records and asbestos exposure evidence to the company by the mesothelioma lawyer, from which the company would write a check for the person filing the claim.

Between the 1980s and 2000s, the number of tort litigation claims filed by individuals exposed to asbestos rose significantly. These individuals turned from worker's compensation claims to tort litigation because workers' compensation was designed for situations like broken arms rather than occupational diseases. Tort litigation allowed them to seek legal compensation from the individual or individuals who caused them harm. Today, mesothelioma lawsuits remain in the category of tort litigation.

Mesothelioma Litigation History Timeline

While the above is a broad description of the history of mesothelioma lawsuits, there are many smaller details that took place over the years to form asbestos litigation into what we know today. Below are some key points in mesothelioma litigation history:

  • 1908: The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) is enacted into U.S. federal law. This act helped to protect and compensate individuals in the railroad occupation who were injured while working.
  • 1926: The first successful compensation claim by an ill asbestos worker was settled without a trial and processed by the Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Board.
  • 1932: The first disability award is given to a maintenance worker in a federal hospital after an asbestosis claim is filed.
  • 1935: Officials at Johns Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan order the editors of the magazine Asbestos to publish nothing about asbestosis.
  • 1936: Numerous asbestos companies sponsor research on the health effects of asbestos, but agree to have complete control over the disclosure of the results.
  • 1938: The United States adopts a "safe" dust limit of 176 particles of asbestos per cubic centimeter within the workplace.

  • 1943: Asbestos companies are highly aware of the health risks associated with asbestos.
  • 1952: The medical director at Johns Manville recommends warnings labels be attached to all products containing asbestos. His recommendation is unsuccessful.
  • 1960: An epidemiological study confirms the causal relationship between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
  • 1969: Johns-Manville pays $1 million in worker compensation.
  • 1971: Asbestos becomes the first single substance regulated as a human health hazard by OSHA under the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  • 1972: A large portion of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease diagnoses come from U.S. veterans of WWII.
  • 1973: The first major asbestos lawsuit is won by an insulation worker.
  • 1977: The Sumner Simpson Papers are introduced. These were hidden documents containing efforts by large corporations to cover up the health hazards of asbestos.
  • 1982: Johns-Manville files for bankruptcy.
  • 1982: 1,000 asbestos claims are filed by 300 law firms, totaling $1 billion spent by defendants.
  • 1988: The Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust opens. It was designed to handle most of the asbestos liabilities.
  • 1989: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bans many asbestos products.
  • 1991: the EPA's ban on asbestos products is overturned. Some products are allowed, while products such as flooring, felt, rollboard and asbestos paper are allowed.
  • 1994: Mesothelioma is recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • 1999: The United Kingdom (UK) bans asbestos.
  • 2001: Two hijacked planes fly into the World Trade Center Twin Towers, resulting in their collapse; asbestos dust and debris form a cloud of smoke and stretch for blocks across the city.
  • 2002: 730,000 asbestos claims are filed by 8,400 law firms totaling $70 billion from defendants.
  • 2003: The largest asbestos verdict, $250 million, is awarded to a single plaintiff.
  • 2011: Mining of asbestos in Canada is stopped.
  • 2012: Two asbestos tycoons, Stephan Schidheiny and Jean-Louis de Cartier go to prison for negligence from 2,200 asbestos-related deaths.
  • 2013: The Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act (FACT Act) is introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. If passed, it would deny and delay justice for individuals with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

Nationwide Mesothelioma Lawyers

Mesothelioma litigation has seen many changes throughout the years, but what hasn't changed is the need for fast action if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. Statute of limitation laws may prevent you from filing a lawsuit after a certain amount of time. Learn more about working with a mesothelioma lawyer by exploring more of Nolo's articles on the subject. From there, use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find a mesothelioma lawyer who is right for you or your loved one.

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