New Georgia Law May Nix Asbestos Cases

Lawyers are gearing up for a constitutional challenge to a new state law that could remove nearly 3,000 asbestos cases from Fulton County dockets.

The law was designed to stem the tide of out-of-state asbestos claims being filed in Georgia, said its primary sponsor, Rep. David E. Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

“We were seeing a huge number of people that were nonresidents of Georgia and that had not been exposed to asbestos or silica in Georgia who were suing in Georgia courts,” said Ralston. . . .

[O]ne plaintiffs’ attorney, David P. Bevon of Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said out-of-state plaintiffs filed in Georgia because the law here was more favorable than in other states for injuries that occurred years or even decades ago. He also noted that some defendants, such as Georgia-Pacific, are based here.

The new law, signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on April 12 and codified at chapter 51-14 of the Georgia Code, prevents future suits from out-of-state plaintiffs. But because it applies retroactively, the constitutional fight is over the impact the law could have on cases that already have been filed.

The law added a host of new requirements for asbestos claims to survive in the state’s courts. Among the new rules, a plaintiff must present “prima facie evidence of physical impairment” that shows “to a reasonable degree of certainty” that exposure to asbestos was “a substantial contributing factor” to the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have until Oct. 19 — or 180 days from the enactment of the bill — to file affidavits establishing the prima facie evidence.

Apparently, those affadavits are proving hard to come by. Details here from the Fulton County Daily Report via Law.com.


Asbestos Verdict Against Caterpillar Is a First, Plaintiff Counsel Says

A San Francisco jury says a bulldozer operator with mesothelioma should be paid $2.2 million for his injuries in what a plaintiff attorney calls the first verdict in the nation involving asbestos exposure from Caterpillar Inc. machinery.

Philip A. Harley of Paul, Hanley & Harley said Caterpillar’s portion of the judgment should be about $900,000 because the jury found it only partially liable.

According to Harley, plaintiff Daniel Johnson was exposed to asbestos from Caterpillar bulldozers while doing brake work and other maintenance. Harley said in a post-verdict statement that Johnson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2004 and was recently told he will only live another three to six months.

Details here from the Asbestos Litigation Reporter via FindLaw.


Claims Surge as U.S. Lawyers See Silica as the New Asbestos

AMERICAN companies that produce silica, an ingredient of builder�s sand, have seen a massive surge in lawsuits this year as personal injury and class action lawyers claim that the dusty substance could be as deadly as asbestos.

The number of claims rose to about 30,000 this year from fewer than 10,000 last year. One company, US Silica, has been hit with 22,000 claims, up from 3,505 a year ago.

The Times of London reports this dreadful news here.


Harry Wartnick, ‘Mr. Asbestos,’ Felled by Heart Attack at 55

Anyone who has ever had a brush with asbestos litigation in San Francisco will instantly recognize Wartnick’s name. And, though many asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t have the best reputation among judges and the defense bar, Harry did, as this obituary attests. My favorite part of his obit is this:

What people might not know about Wartnick is that he was colorblind.

“He’d come to the golf course or the office and he’d have on one sock that was bright red and one sock that was bright yellow, and lime green pants,” said Lawther, his former boss. “He was a fashion nightmare. It was the funniest goddamn thing, pardon my language, I’ve ever seen.”

Harry, we hardly knew ye.


Nationally Known Asbestos Litigator Accepts Disbarment

“The referee in the attorney discipline case against prominent Miami class-action lawyer Louis S. Robles has recommended that he be disbarred, and Robles has agreed to this in a no contest plea. . . . [The referee] found that Robles engaged in a pattern of misconduct by failing to properly communicate with his clients, failing to ‘properly and timely’ remit funds due his clients, and charging clients ‘excessive and improper’ costs. Robles is nationally known for his class-action and mass torts work in representing people who claim they were injured from asbestos exposure,” the New York Lawyer reports here.



Asbestos Litigation: “Better Than the Lottery”

Some workers interviewed at a mass asbestos screening conducted by a plaintiffs’ firm at their union hall had this to say:

“I saw the notice in the union newsletter and said, ‘Why not?'” said an automotive worker from Ford. Sitting on the tailgate of his shiny, new Chevy pickup and lighting a fresh cigarette off the one he had just finished, he added: “It’s better than the lottery. If they find something, I get a few thousand dollars I didn’t have. If they don’t find anything, I’ve just lost an afternoon.”

Standing nearby, a Boeing worker 10 days from retirement volunteered, “The lawyers said I could get $10,000 or $12,000 if the shadow is big enough, and I know just the fishing boat I’d buy with that.”

Asked if he’d ever worked with asbestos, he said, “No, but lawyers say it’s all over the place, so I was probably exposed to it.”

What they don’t realize is that by taking a small payment now, they sign away their rights to sue if they ever really get sick. And they’re sucking up a limited pool of funds that should go to those who really need it. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a long article about it here .


ABA May Endorse Limits on Asbestos Suits

Though more often aligned with plaintiffs’ lawyers, the ABA is considering endorsing a limitation on asbestos suits aimed at allowing recovery for those who are actually sick and suffering, while eliminating the claims of plaintiffs who show signs of asbestos exposure but have no symptoms of disease, the AP reports here.


Medical Fraud in Asbestos Litigation?

This article discusses a study of claims of asbestos disease submitted by plaintiffs’ firms to the Manville Trust, which was created and funded with $2 billion following the 1982 bankruptcy of Johns-Manville. The Trust pays out set amounts to those who file injury claims alleging exposure to its products. Among many disturbing findings, the study found one doctor who had diagnosed a staggering 30,467 claimants with low-level asbestos disease in a six-year period. According to my calculations, that works out to an average of about 21 positive diagnoses each day for six years! Sound fishy to you?