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Mesothelioma Victims Deserve Better Than Wasteful Legal Maneuvers

Publication Date: 
April 22, 2012
Source: 
Los Angeles Times
Author: 
Michael Hiltzik

Professor Deborah Hensler spoke with the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik about national asbestos cases and how, after a failed attempt by former Sen. Arlen Specter to create a $140-billion victims' trust fund, the system "resumed its expensive and tragic course."

John Johnson died three months ago, his body racked with malignant mesothelioma, a disease that's almost always caused by asbestos exposure. The Marine veteran had sued dozens of companies he believed shared responsibility for his condition, but he never got his day in court.

Here's the horrific question now: Did asbestos industry lawyers deliberately drive Johnson to his death by putting him through a brutal series of depositions so their clients would save money?

...

That suggests that calculating the size of a suitable overall settlement for present and future claims should be relatively straightforward — in 2005, Rand Corp. pegged the average jury award in mesothelioma cases at about $3.8 million. But previous attempts to craft such a settlement foundered in squabbling over whether the compensation was adequate or the deal was constitutional. In 1997, the Supreme Court agreed that a nationwide settlement would "provide the most secure, fair, and efficient means of compensating victims of asbestos exposure." But it invalidated a privately negotiated settlement on grounds that drafting a deal was Congress' job. An effort by former Sen. Arlen Specter to create a $140-billion victims' trust fund collapsed in 2006. After that, says Deborah Hensler, an asbestos tort expert at Stanford Law School, the system "resumed its expensive and in my view tragic course."