The combination of the overwhelming numbers of those exposed to asbestos and the horrific nature of the resulting injuries such as mesothelioma and lung cancer created an explosion in asbestos-related legal activity. According to a 2005 RAND Institute for Civil Justice study, over 730,000 people in the US filed claims for asbestos-induced injuries from the 1970s through 2002. The defending businesses and insurers spent more than $70 billion in response, with only 42 cents per dollar going to the injured claimants and the rest going to defense costs and attorneys fees. RAND calculated about 8,400 entities have been defendants in asbestos litigation. By mid-2004, at least 73 companies commonly named as asbestos defendants had declared bankruptcy.
Asbestos lawsuits cover a variety of situations and are brought under different legal theories in both state and federal courts. The outcomes vary widely and different laws govern in each jurisdiction. Many different types of defendants have been targeted including mining companies; manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and marketers; employers; and property owners, landlords and managers.
Lawsuits for asbestos injury are often brought as product liability cases. A product liability case theorizes that a defective or unreasonably dangerous product injured someone, potentially making anyone in the "chain of distribution" liable for that injury. Parties in the chain of distribution can include the manufacturer, material supplier, marketer, seller and distributor. There are several potential types of product liability, including strict liability, breach of warranty, negligence, defective design, civil conspiracy, failure to warn of danger and others.
In some states, premises liability lawsuits are a potential source of recovery for asbestos injuries. Plaintiffs sue operators or owners of industrial facilities that used asbestos in production, or where asbestos exposure occurred from construction materials. Landlords, property managers and property owners may face liability for exposure in residential and commercial buildings where asbestos-containing construction materials were used, resulting in injury to the occupants.
Workers injured by asbestos in the workplace are usually eligible for workers' compensation benefits. The treatment of occupational diseases in the workers' compensation system varies by state - sometimes more restrictively than other types of diseases and sometimes more generously. Depending on the jurisdiction and the facts, workers may have additional legal remedies outside the workers' compensation system.
Asbestos-containing materials were used to construct millions of buildings. Some lawsuits contemplate the economic loss to property from the asbestos contamination. The plaintiff seeks to recover the difference between the value of the property without asbestos contamination and the amount the property is currently worth with asbestos.
Asbestos litigation can be extremely complex. If you have been harmed by asbestos exposure and diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, you should protect your interests by seeking the advice of a skilled lawyer.