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Asbestos Litigation: Malignancy in the Courts?

Thursday May 2002


Professor Lester Brickman Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University

In recent years asbestos litigation has surged despite the fact that work-related exposure to asbestos peaked during World War II and essentially ceased 20-30 years ago. Over 200,000 claims are now pending in the courts, and the total corporate asbestos liability to U.S. plaintiffs is expected to reach $200 billion. Over 50 companies have declared bankruptcy over asbestos litigation, and filings have shifted to deep pocket defendants with minimal or highly tangential links to asbestos. Roger Parloff, in a recent hair-raising article about the status of asbestos litigation that appeared in Fortune, called this “the search for the solvent bystander.” Parloff notes the following examples: filings in the textile industry have jumped more than 721% in the past two years; in the pulp and paper industries, 296%; and in the food and beverage industries, 284%. More than 1,000 different companies have been named as defendants, including some of the largest corporations in the U.S.

Who is filing these claims, what is driving this growth, and what are the prospects for judicial or legislative solutions? Lester Brickman, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on asbestos litigation, will address these and other issues relative to this unprecedented phenomenon in our courts.