Asbestos lawsuits become a family affair

The Madison County Record Mar. 29, 2009, 6:36am

Just when business thought it couldn't get worse, now comes another ominous warning: the lawyers who gave us the great American asbestos litigation are plotting a fresh assault on industry.

This one could result in dozens more companies bankrupted and hundreds of thousands of more jobs destroyed. More than that--it could result in what one lawyer dubs "limitless liability" for targeted businesses.

"Secondary" or "take home" liability, or suing not on behalf of folks who came in contact with the mineral, but their family members or babysitters who may have touched them at home, is the latest gambit being tried in court. That's according to our Scott Sabatini, who covered a recent asbestos litigation conference in Beverly Hills, attended by the asbestos heavyweight lawyers from Madison County and elsewhere.

"The housewife is the number one occupation listed for those now contracting mesothelioma," claimed West Virginia plaintiff's attorney Anne Kearse.

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer often caused by exposure to asbestos. But according to scholar Lester Brickman of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the overwhelming majority of asbestos lawsuits--nearly 1 million all told by some estimates--aren't filed by mesothelioma victims; they're filed by those who allege exposure but aren't actually sick.

Plaintiff's lawyers bundle hundreds or thousands of these questionable lawsuits, each with their own questionable medical evidence. And rather than fight and risk bankruptcy, companies settle, paying the lawyers to go away.

"It's a scam. It's the biggest scam in the history of the universe. There's nothing bigger, never was," said Brickman in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "The majority of evidence is bogus.. the overwhelming majority of claims are being brought on behalf of people who have no asbestos illness as recognized by medical science."

And so explains the financial opportunity that might beget this new wave of asbestos suits and their "limitless liability."

It's not that many housewives and babysitters are actually sick and deserving of justice. It's the possible existence of a few which could open up a new, giant class of asbestos "family victims" to sign up for litigation, lured by the promise of a quick-and-dirty settlement, fast money in their pockets.

It doesn't have to be. Defendants can fight back this time. Judges can stand up and stop these lawyers from hijacking our justice system. Here's hoping they can find the courage.

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