Joseph Stalin’s infamous KGB chief, Lavrenti Beria, had a unique approach to justice. Instead of investigating a crime to find the culprit, he’d arrest the “culprit” first and create a crime to pin on him. “Show me the man,” he boasted, “and I will find the crime.”
If Beria were alive today, he might share some parallel thinking with asbestos attorneys.
Rather than make a rigorous effort to establish the cause of a client’s asbestosis or mesothelioma, determine the likely source of the contaminant, identify any other parties arguably responsible for exposure, and then seek damages – if warranted - from that source and those parties, many an asbestos attorney simply finds a manufacturer or supplier of asbestos or asbestos-containing products, confirms that the target has tantalizing assets, and then posits a tenuous or spurious connection between that company’s product and his client.
That kind of outrageous speculation and seeming misrepresentation has proven to be a successful and highly profitable scenario for many an asbestos attorney in venues like Madison County, until recently. Lately, juries are expecting asbestos attorneys to actually meet their burden of proof (rather than simply put the defendants in the impossible position of having to prove a negative).
On Feb. 28, a Madison County jury took only four hours to decide in favor of defendant Crane Co. in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs’ courtroom. It was the third asbestos defense verdict in Madison County since 2010.
The jury concluded that plaintiffs’ attorneys had failed to prove that Crane’s asbestos-containing gasket material, Cranite, was even aboard the Navy ships on which a mesothelioma victim had served -- and that insulation materials were the more likely source of exposure, in any case.
When more juries start demanding real proof and honest argumentation, it’s curtains for many asbestos attorneys. They may have to find other work. We know someone in an expansionary phase who could use some help: Vladimir Putin.