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Asbestos Litigation History

In December 1966, Claude Tomplait filed the first asbestos products lawsuit in Beaumont, Texas, against eleven manufacturers of asbestos-containing insulation products.  Tomplait had been diagnosed with asbestosis in July of that year.  The case proceeded to trial on May 12, 1969 and a week later the verdict was returned in favor of the manufacturers. 

In October 1969, another case was filed for one of Mr. Tomplait's co-workers, a man named Clarence Borel.  Similarly, Borel was suffering from an asbestos-related disease and again, numerous asbestos manufacturers were the defendants.  Unlike the Tomplaint case, the jury returned a verdict for Mr. Borel in the amount of approximately $80,000.  With the success of this case, legal battles on behalf of asbestos victims shifted to other parts of the United States.  Starting in late 1973, cases were filed in many other jurisdictions.

In 1974, attorney Steven Kazan filed a precedent-setting civil lawsuit on behalf of Reba Rudkin.  Rudkin had developed asbestosis after working for 29 years at the Johns-Manville manufacturing plant in Pittsburg, California.  This case was precedent-setting because the company would normally be protected from such a lawsuit because workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employee suing an employer.  However, Karzan and associates argued that Johns-Manville and its executives should not be shielded from fraud and conspiracy charges.  Evidence of fraud and conspiracy emerged when it was discovered letters disclosed that these companies conspired to suppress knowledge about the hazards of asbestos.  These letters disclosed that these companies had conspired to suppress knowledge about the hazards of asbestos, as early as the 1930s.

By 1981, a major victory was won when the California Supreme Court ruled against Johns-Manville that workers could sue their employers when circumstances like those in the Rudkin case was applied.  This allowed other Johns-Manville employees to proceed with their cases in civil court against their employer.  Bob Speake, a co-worker of Reba Rudkin, obtained a verdict in the form of a $150,000 payment from Johns-Manville for its role in contributing to Speake's asbestos related deteriorating health. 

By 1982, Johns-Manville had filed for bankruptcy protection to avoid paying compensation to the growing number of victims of diseases caused by exposure to its asbestos products.  Several other asbestos companies including Eagle Picher, UNARCO, Amatex, H.K. Porter, Carey Canada, and Celotex followed this example.  Within a few years, the entire asbestos textile industry was in bankruptcy, as were several major asbestos insulation manufacturers.

Around this time, medical and scientific studies had revealed that asbestos-related diseases were not solely confined to those individuals working in asbestos mines and factories.  The studies showed an increasing amount of people diagnosed to asbestos-related diseases after they had been exposed to asbestos at sites where asbestos-containing materials were installed.  Thus, asbestos litigation diversified to people who had been exposed to asbestos while working in shipyards, refineries, railroads, power plants, and the construction industry.   

Today, tragedies resulting from asbestos exposure continue to affect thousands of people.  Consequently, Roughly 730,000 asbestos claims have been filed over the past four decades, including 200,000 that are currently pending in state and federal courts throughout the country.   Tack on that, the roughly tens of thousands of new claims filed every year.  The total cost of asbestos litigation to American businesses has increased from $1 billion in 1982 to a whopping $70 billion in 2002, according to a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice.

The sheer numbers and costs of all the asbestos cases have been problematic for everybody involved.  Many people believe that it has become far to easy for people who are not yet sick, and may never become ill, to successfully be rewarded.  Consequently, asbestos-related litigation has driven at least 70 companies into bankruptcy.  That has cost nearly 60,000 American workers their jobs and $200 million in lost wages, according to a 2002 study by Nobel laureate economist, Joseph Stiglitz.