Thanks to information contributed by professional contacts, more information is coming out regarding the previously described "Palermo" claim to the Manville Trust, and a related federal court lawsuit against the DII Trust by the same claimant. The claims are unique because they are being made over the last four or so years, some 37 years after Mr. Palermo's death in 1966. This window into the asbestos trust world was opened by public publishing of opinion in Gail Garner v. DII Industries, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9583 (Feb 4. 2010).
Here is an image of the complaint mentioned in the federal district. The complaint includes some very interesting correspondence with the Manville Trust regarding the claims raised.
Here is an online post that appears to be by the claimant, who says she is Mr. Palermo's daugher. The post is to a public website.
In short, it appears the daughter of Mr. Palermo is an active pro se litigant seeking money for his estate from at least 7 trusts. And, judging by the attachments to the complaint, there are multiple other unusual "extraordinary circumstances" claims to the chapter 11 asbestos trusts.
One can certainly appreciate the logic and reasons for the claims asserted by Ms. Garner on behalf of the estate. On the other hand, it's pretty amazing to see this happening and think about the defense side consequences. The claims also shed some light on propensity to claim, and various factors related to the appropirate amounts of compensation of claims so long after death. The claims also raise issues about whether and how much lawyers are needed for claims to chapter 11 trusts.
Most importantly, taken as a whole, the papers provide yet a precise example of why the actions of the chapter 11 trusts and the trustees should be transparent instead of cloaked in secrecy. The public and the policy makers of our day should have access to the facts. On secrecy, here's another plug for a 2009 law review article written by Stephen Wm. Smith, a United States Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Texas, Houston division. See "Kudzu in the Courthouse: Judgments Made in the Shade," 3 Fed. Cts. L. Rev. # 2, 177 (2009). The full text article is available here, and is free.
I just read your book in 2 sittings. I enjoyed it. It surprised me. There was much heartbreak as there was much enjoyment. My life was similar. My dad, Angelo Palermo, (Italian American) was away at work a lot (spray coating asbestos) and he lost a daughter (my sister) in a tragedy (she drowned), four years before he died. He died at age 51 of cancer. While I was reading your book, on page 198 you stated 'Dad, inhaling deeply on his Kent cigarette...' I have an old ad about Kent cigarettes having asbestos filters. Thirty-four (34) years after the death of my father, I put in a claim against Johns-Manville, a large asbestos company. No attorney would take the case but I did it on my own, and won. I now have 6 more claims in against other asbestos companies. I believe you have a case to sue for asbestos wrongful death. There is no statue of limitation (discovery rule). I can help you and I would like some assistance in how I can publish a book about my case. Please respond. Really enjoyed your book. Our family, including my father, loved your father.
Gail Palermo Garner
Thanks to information contributed by professional contacts, more information is coming out regarding the previously described "Palermo" claim to the Manville Trust, and a related federal court lawsuit against the DII Trust by the same claimant. The claims are unique because they are being made over the last four or so years, some 37 years after Mr. Palermo's death in 1966. This window into the asbestos trust world was opened by public publishing of opinion in Gail Garner v. DII Industries, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9583 (Feb 4. 2010).
Remember those controversies about biased doctors misreading reading x-rays to find asbestosis or "pleural changes consistent with exposure" to asbestos or silica ? New science will bring new controversies - see below for a recent article on using biomarkers in exhaled breath to find asbestosis. Here is the online source of the abstract pasted below.
Exhaled breath condensate biomarkers in asbestos-related lung disorders.
Sharron Chow, Charlotte Campbell, Alessandra Sandrini, Paul S Thomas, Anthony R Johnson, ...Deborah H Yates show all
Respiratory Medicine (2009)
Volume: 103, Issue: 8, Pages: 1091-1097
PubMed ID: 19520561
OBJECTIVES: Asbestos induces generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species in laboratory studies. Several such species can be measured non-invasively in humans in exhaled breath condensate (EBC) but few have been evaluated. This study aimed to assess oxidative stress and lung inflammation in vivo. METHODS: Eighty six men were studied: sixty subjects with asbestos-related disorders (asbestosis: 18, diffuse pleural thickening (DPT): 16, pleural plaques (PPs): 26) and twenty six age- and gender-matched normal individuals. RESULTS: Subjects with asbestosis had raised EBC markers of oxidative stress compared with normal controls [8-isoprostane (geometric mean (95% CI) 0.51 (0.17-1.51) vs 0.07 (0.04-0.13) ng/ml, p<0.01); hydrogen peroxide (13.68 (8.63-21.68) vs 5.89 (3.99-8.69) microM, p<0.05), as well as increased EBC total protein (17.27 (10.57-28.23) vs 7.62 (5.13-11.34) microg/ml, p<0.05), and fractional exhaled nitric oxide (mean+/-SD) (9.67+/-3.26 vs 7.57+/-1.89ppb; p<0.05). EBC pH was lower in subjects with asbestosis compared with subjects with DPT (7.26+/-0.31 vs 7.53+/-0.24; p<0.05). There were no significant differences in exhaled carbon monoxide, EBC total nitrogen oxides and 3-nitrotyrosine between any of the asbestos-related disorders, or between these and controls. CONCLUSION: In asbestos-related disorders, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress are significantly elevated in subjects with asbestosis compared with healthy individuals but not in pleural diseases
Scottish Trial Court Upholds Legislation Reinstating Pleural Plaques Claiming for Scotland (Statute Also Applies to Asbestosis and Pleural Thickening)
A hat tip to Business Insurance for an email alert on Friday advising that a Scottish trial court had just issued an opinion rejecting insurer challenges to Scottish legislation reinstating claiming for pleural plaques. The article is here; it mainly says the insurers are not happy and may appeal. The opinion is online here at the court's website.
For those interested only in outcome, this is a potentially huge loss for both insurers and, in my view, for society. Set out below are some detailed comments on the opinion, and arguments apparently not made by the insurers. The short story is that the trial judge predictably upheld the law as a rational exercise of legislative judgment despite claims that the legislation violates Scottish law and EU law. Also bear in mind that the statute applies beyond pleural plaques and thus explicitly allows claiming compensation for "pleural thickening" and "asbestosis."
For more specifics on the opinion and some commentary see below. My personal view is that the legislation is misguided because societies have so many more pressing needs that we cannot afford to pay compensation for all biomarkers/conditions. Specifically, it seems to me lines must be drawn, and that societies and companies should not pay compensation for biomarkers/conditions that mark past "exposure" but do not impair day to day life, do not impair ordinary bodily function in general, and do not involve changes to the cellular mechanisms that actively regulate cells and, thus, regulate cancers and the endocrine system. Compensation instead should be reserved for the approaching waves of claims arising from new science and medical monitoring claims related to genetic alterations that really do matter.
On the topic of future claims and science, see Gary Marchant's many papers, which are for the most part collected here. Mr. Marchant is a lawyer, scientist, and former Kirkland litigator. He is now a professor of law at Arizona State University. His roles there include: Executive Director & Faculty Fellow, Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology, and Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics. See especially Marchant, Personalized Medicine and the Law, 44 Ariz. Att'y 12 (2007). See also Gary Marchant See Gary E Marchant, Robert J Milligan, & Brian Wilhelmi, Legal Pressures and Incentives for Personalized Medicine, 3 Personalized Medicine 391 (2006)(related topics in terms of litigation pressures)(the article is available here).
The opinion by Lord Emslie is long -- it runs about 116 pages and consists of 248 numbered paragraphs. The first 70 pages are devoted to some procedural history, and a significant amount of analysis regarding standing, with the latter encompassing analysis under applicable EU directives and UK law. The opinion also includes some interesting history and analysis regarding the role of the Scottish Parliament as a result of changes in the structure between the UK countries and the advent of EU law. For a US lawyer, the discussion was educational.
The scope of the legislation needs to be understood. To that end, here are key excerpts from the opinion.
" In these proceedings for judicial review the petitioners are major insurance companies. Together they challenge the lawfulness of a recent Act of the Scottish Parliament which came into force on 17 June 2009. Both prospectively and retrospectively the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 bears to make pleural plaques and certain other asbestos-related conditions actionable for the purposes of claims of damages for personal injuries. According to the petitioners, this unfairly burdens them with additional liabilities under indemnity insurance policies to the extent of hundreds of millions - perhaps billions - of pounds, and they now seek declaratory and reductive orders from the court in that connection. This is resisted by the compearing respondents who are (first) the Lord Advocate as representing the Scottish Ministers, and (third to tenth) a number of individuals with diagnosed pleural plaques who seek, or at least intend to seek, damages on that account from their former employers. A First Hearing on the parties' competing contentions has now taken place before me over periods totalling 22 days."
 So far as relevant for present purposes, the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009 provides as follows:
"1. Pleural Plaques
(1) Asbestos-related pleural plaques are a personal injury which is not negligible.
(2) Accordingly, they constitute actionable harm for the purposes of an action of damages for personal injuries.
(3) Any rule of law the effect of which is that asbestos-related pleural plaques do not constitute actionable harm ceases to apply to the extent it has that effect.
(4) But nothing in this section otherwise affects any enactment or rule of law which determines whether and in what circumstances a person may be liable in damages in respect of personal injuries.
2. Pleural Thickening and Asbestosis
(1) For the avoidance of doubt, a condition mentioned in sub-section (2) which has not caused and is not causing impairment of a person's physical condition is a personal injury which is not negligible.
(2) Those conditions are -
(a) asbestos-related pleural thickening; and
(3) Accordingly, such a condition constitutes actionable harm for the purposes of an action of damages for personal injuries.
3. Limitation of Actions
(1) This section applies to an action of damages for personal injuries -
(a) in which the damages claimed consist of or include damages in respect of -
(i) asbestos-related pleural plaques; or
(ii) a condition to which section 2 applies; and
(b) which, in the case of an action commenced before the date this section comes into force, has not been determined by that date.
(2) For the purposes of sections 17 and 18 of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 ... (limitation in respect of actions for personal injuries), the period beginning with 17 October 2007 and ending with the day on which this section comes into force is to be left out of account.
4. Commencement and Retrospective Effect
(2) Sections 1 and 2 are to be treated for all purposes as having always had effect.
(3) But those sections have no effect in relation to -
(a) a claim which is settled before the date on which subsection (2) comes into force (whether or not legal proceedings in relation to the claim have been commenced); or (b) legal proceedings which are determined before that date."
 As regards Scotland only, therefore, the Act confers on pleural plaques and on two other asymptomatic asbestos-related associated conditions the status of non-negligible and thus actionable injury. It is true that this mirrors the position de facto conceded in many claims over the previous twenty years or more but, given the asymptomatic, non-disabling, non-disfiguring and non-causative nature of these conditions, the petitioners now challenge this development as an unwarranted contravention of the established need for real or material "damage" in order to complete a cause of action in negligence. In this respect, according to the petitioners, the Scottish Parliament in passing the Act has contrived to do the opposite of many foreign legislatures which, faced with an intolerable escalation of claims by "... the worried well", have brought in measures to negate the actionability of pleural plaques. And, it is said, the Parliament has done so by means of a blatant controversion of established (and indeed agreed) medical fact."
Insurers Held Back on Specifics
The opinion indicates the insurers held back on providing specifics on their policies, and on their estimates of the future amounts that will be paid as a result of this legislation. Thus, Lord Emslie explained as follows:
78] Another contention forcefully advanced by the respondents was to the effect that issues of locus standi could not be determined where the petitioners' position as insurers had not been the subject of detailed and precise averment, submission or vouching. Deficiencies in this area had, it was said, been flagged up months ago; calls for further specification had been made in the respondents' Answers; yet the petitioners had stubbornly declined to reveal their true hand. Even now only specimen policies had been produced (productions 6/65-68); there was no way of telling what policy terms would actually apply in any individual case; for the future, the petitioners had sought to reserve their position on the construction and application of policies; and, significantly, the proper law of relevant insurance contracts could not be ascertained. If such contracts were not subject to Scots law, so the argument ran, they might not even be engaged by the 2009 Act which had effect only in Scotland.
 Massive unresolved uncertainties as to cost levels: In the debate before me it was, I think, acknowledged on all sides that estimation of the overall costs associated with this legislation was far from straightforward. Given the long latency period for asbestos-related conditions including pleural plaques, it was hard to estimate the number of individuals who might have been exposed in past decades. Moreover no-one could predict what proportion would develop asbestos-related conditions, nor what percentage of asymptomatic conditions would actually come to light. Judging the number of pleural plaques claims which might emerge in future years was thus an inexact science with many uncertain variables. Even the approximate cost per claim was hard to pin down - understandable, perhaps, now that claims are apparently being intimated at levels several times higher than the pre-Rothwell average. Against that background, the Scottish Government's approach was largely based on evidence of the current situation as modified by actuarial and demographic considerations. The insurance industry, on the other hand, sought to rely on UK Government estimates (which were themselves uncertain) before taking a percentage which was said to represent Scotland. The latter approach may have allowed individual insurers to withhold commercially sensitive data which might be of value to competitors. In these circumstances, overall estimates ranged from perhaps £100 million, on the Government side, to the insurers' potential maximum of £8.6 billion. If the Scottish percentage were to be reduced, the figure of £8.6 billion would come down as well, but that would still leave an "order of magnitude" difference between the competing estimates. (emphasis added)
The Insurers Standard Approach Produced a Predictable Result
The opinion is a disappointment in the sense that there is really very little that is "new" in the opinion for persons familiar with the debate regarding whether compensation should be paid for pleural plaques, and so the legislation was not struck down. The trial judge, Lord Emslie, of course is not responsible for whether the parties present anything new or instead simply present the usual arguments. The absence of anything new in the opinion gives one the impression the insurers simply presented the usual arguments without attempting to present NEW evidence or argument on science and pleural plaques as it relates to the number of pleural plaques cases waiting to be identified, and the potential costs. Plainly, the insurers made a conscious decision not to present a comprehensive analysis of the potential loss, a decision one assumes is driven by concerns regarding public disclosures, financial statements, and general reticence to commit to a particular position on a particular topic.
I certainly will not claim expertise on Scottish law or EU law, and so my comments are worth the price you are paying for the analysis. That said, the opinion presents in essence a question that is familiar to US lawyers -- when will a court strike down a legislative act? The opinion uses some words and phrases different than we might use in the use in arguing that issue here, but makes plain the reality that deference is owed to the judgments of the elected legislative branch. Indeed, from the words and analysis, I took away the impression that UL law calls for even more deference than is shown under US law. I also was left with the opinion that the insurers merely put forth a pro forma challenge to delay a probably inevitable affirmance of the legislation, and so are managing the process so that litigation expenses are far less than the savings obtained from delaying or inhibiting the future onslaught of pleural plaques claiming.
What else might have been done by the insurers? From the perspective of this armchair quarterback, the insurers might have had a real chance to win - and might have done some societal good - if they presented a compelling case on the science to show that society cannot afford to pay for the presence of biomarkers (plaques) that are biologically inactive and instead are mere markers of a past exposure, much like a scar marks a past physical insult. On that basis, one could (I think) rightly distinguish pleural plaques from biomarkers that show actual cellular level changes that actually disrupt ordinary bodily functioning (e.g. genomic changes caused by chemical). One might also try to help the Court see that thousands of biomarkers out there, and to understand the differences between pure markers of past exposure, and genomic changes that disrupt cell function. A small part of that potential argument is laid out at section X (pages 31-33) of this paper I submitted in opposition to the pleural plaques Consultation in England.
The argument I would have pressed also would have shown that there are ample reasons to expect that pleural plaques claiming in the UK actually may be far worse than it is has been in the US. Why? In short, because the UK has had such a large shipbuilding industry that used so much asbestos, because amphiboles were widely used in the UK thanks to Cape Industries and T & N (among others), because EU use of asbestos vastly exceeded use in North America, because new CT scanners find 60% plaques far better than do x-rays, and because pleural plaques claiming is driven by lawyers and entrepreneurial behavior instead of science. Id at sections 2.2, 3.1-3.3, 7.10.1, 9.8.
Finally, the opinion (and thus, apparently, the insurers' arguments) do not address the availability of payments from asbestos trusts (chapter 11 trusts, the T & N trust in the UK, or private trusts). Id. at sections 5.1-5.3.
Global Asbestos Claiming - Report on Asbestos Litigation in Nine Nations - Munich Re's Major Compilation of Information
Here is the online image of Munich Re's recent, comprehensive report on asbestos litigation, Asbestos: Anatomy of a Mass Tort. The 112 page report is authored by Nicholas Roenneberg, and is Order number 302-06142. The report can be downloaded and printed from this page.
The same page, on the right hand side, allows you to order a printed copy at no charge.
The report is quite good. It begins with a review of asbestos litigation in North America. The report goes on to explain and explore various factors relevant to reinsurers such as Munich Re.
Beginning at page 58, the report addresses asbestos claiming in other nations in the context of employers' liability. The report covers the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France, Czech Republic, Japan and Brazil. These country-specific reports are well worth reading to better understand the global asbestos claiming situation.
I owe a hat tip and thanks to Christian Lahnstein of Munich Re for bringing the report to my attention this past fall, and for provding value contributions to dialog regarding mass tort claiming. Christian is a very thoughtful thinker and speaker on the subject of asbestos claiming and its consequences. Indeed, he is thoughtful enough that at a dinner before an international asbestos conference this past fall in London, a smart plaintiff's lawyer listened to Christian for a while and then commented that he was surprised to learn that Christian works in the insurance industry.
Lawyers thinking about mass tort policy and legal issues inevitably end up thinking and talking about private claimants and their propensity to claim. A growing topic today is the federal government's propensity to claim.
During the Bush II years, much of corporate America had little fear regarding civil or criminal claims from the US government. Now, however, that is changing, and one might well wonder about the larger implications for tort and other claims. Look for example at the federal government's activities this week, and consider the implications for future civil claims.
On Monday, the SEC continued its assault on the business methods of subprime mortgage lenders. It charged "three former top officers of New Century Financial Corporation with securities fraud for misleading investors as New Century's subprime mortgage business was collapsing in 2006. At the time of the fraud, New Century was one of the largest subprime lenders in the nation." The SEC's press release and teh charges are here.
On Tuesday, as reported here by Ben Hallman from AmLAw, the goverment made plain that it has problem with the business model for "a lot of hedge funds." Specifically, a securities litigation conference included the following comments by David Rosenfeld, the associate regional director of the SEC's New York office:
Rosenfeld said that insider trading, after a downturn over the past two decades, "has come back in force." Rosenfeld described what his agency was seeing as more than one-off, opportunistic activity, but a "determined business" based upon collecting information from corporate insiders. He said his agency is "aggressively pursuing" these bad actors, and he specifically singled out hedge funds. "A lot of hedge funds have been making huge returns because they were cheating," he said. (emphasis added)
How many future civil suits will result from these charges and investigations? I'm sure I don't know. I'm also sure that I would be looking afresh at my litigation and regulatory risks if I were a general counsel working in those industries.
When reading other blogs, I tend to miss comments on the posts, so te purposed of this post is to highlight a "comment" provided yesterday by Mr. Wolfe, of whocanisue.com. See the comment below yesterday's post or the full text is pasted below:
I'm the founder of whocanisue.com. I want to clarify something, lawyers do not pay referral fees on wcis, they pay to advertise (like the Google model) to wcis users. Most importantly, wcis does not decide which counsel is recommended for a particular case, the user decides. The site supplies the users as much information as possible so that the user can make an educated decision on which counsel is best for them. The user can contact one or more lawyers or firms to ask case specific questions, and then decide if and when the user wants to hire a firm. There is no other site that allows the users to control the entire process like whocanisue.com. In fact, our site has technology that would allow the user to chat with someone from each firm before making a decision. Unfortunately, the law firms are not quite ready to use this technology, so it is disabled until some future date when we hope the firms will be ready to use all of the site's functionality.
Here is the Madison County Record's weekly report on new asbestos claims filings. The article lists fourteen new claims. Five of the claims are for lung cancer.
I've not done a meaningful analysis comparing the rate of lung cancer filings, but my gut is telling me that there is a developing uptick in the rate of lung cancer claims in asbestos litigation.
The Internet is an amazing thing for marketing related to actual or potential legal claims. Here is a Madison County Record article that educated me to the existence of Whocanisue.com. It is in essence a referral source for plaintiffs, but also includes a button to hire defense counsel. The site seems to be limited to claims in the US.
It would be fascinating to know the pricing and structure for referral fees and the criteria that determine which counsel is recommended for a particular, serious case.
Readers - does anyone know of a similar website outside of the US?
Massachusetts High Court Ruling Approves a New Medical Monitoring Claim Involving Smokers, Low Dose CT Scans and Cellular Changes
Today was not a good day for the tobacco industry or certain other "mass tort" defendants and/or insurers involved with cancer claiming. Why? Despite opposition briefs from almost every major defense group in the US (see n.4), the Massachusetts Supreme Court today issued a unanimous opinion approving a tort claim to obtain medical monitoring using low dose CT scans to seek to find lung cancer very early for a class of people at meaningful risk of cancer due to many pack years of prior or current smoking of Marlboro cigarettes. See below for the elements of the claim.
The opinion also is noteworthy for two other reasons. First, it includes a ruling on when and how a defendant can win a statute of limitations defense. It will not be easy for the defense since the opinion to a large degree suggests a focus on what a physician has told the plaintiff. The opinion also includes a ruling to protect plaintiffs against splitting a cause of action. The latter ruling is that if cancer does manifest itself, the plaintiff can bring a new claim even if he or she already made a claim for medical monitoring. The opinion is is Donovan v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., --- N.E.2d ----, 455 Mass. 215 (2009). Go here for my prior post predicting this type of outcome and providing data and facts on cancer that help to explain why this ruling will, over time, become quite important.
The elements of the approved medical monitoring claim are:
"In conclusion, each plaintiff must prove the following:
(1) The defendant's negligence (2) caused (3) the plaintiff to become exposed to a hazardous substance that produced, at least, subcellular changes that substantially increased the risk of serious disease, illness, or injury (4) for which an effective medical test for reliable early detection exists, (5) and early detection, combined with prompt and effective treatment, will significantly decrease the risk of death or the severity of the disease, illness or injury, and (6) such diagnostic medical examinations are reasonably (and periodically) necessary, conformably with the standard of care, and (7) the present value of the reasonable cost of such tests and care, as of the date of the filing of the complaint."
Here are key excerpts from the opinion as to the Court's rationale:
"Modern living has exposed people to a variety of toxic substances. Illness and disease from exposure to these substances are often latent, not manifesting themselves for years or even decades after the exposure. Some people so exposed may never develop an illness or disease, but some will. Subcellular or other physiological changes may occur which, in themselves, are not symptoms of any illness or disease, but are warning signs to a trained physician that the patient has developed a condition that indicates a substantial increase in risk of contracting a serious illness or disease and thus the patient will require periodic monitoring. Not all cases will involve physiological change manifesting a known illness, but such cases should be allowed to proceed when a plaintiff's reasonable medical expenses have increased (or are likely to increase, in the exercise of due care) as a result of these physiological changes. We leave for another day consideration of cases that involve exposure to levels of chemicals or radiation known to cause cancer, for which immediate medical monitoring may be medically necessary although no symptoms or subclinical changes have occurred. Here, the physiological changes with the attendant substantial increase in risk of cancer, and the medical necessity of monitoring with its attendant cost, may adequately establish the elements of injury and damages.
Our tort law developed in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, when the vast majority of tortious injuries were caused by blunt trauma and mechanical forces. We must adapt to the growing recognition that exposure to toxic substances and radiation may cause substantial injury which should be compensable even if the full effects are not immediately apparent. See Hansen v. Mountain Fuel Supply Co., 858 P.2d 970, 977 (Utah 1993). When competent medical testimony establishes that medical monitoring is necessary to detect the potential onset of a serious illness or disease due to physiological changes indicating a substantial increase in risk of harm from exposure to a known hazardous substance, the element of injury and damage will have been satisfied and the cost of that monitoring is recoverable in tort. No particular level or quantification of increase in risk of harm is necessary, so long as it is substantial and so long as there has been at least a corresponding subcellular change. Id. at 979-980. This should address any concern over false claims, see Payton v. Abbott Labs, supra at 552-555, yet permit a genuinely injured person to recover legitimate expenses without having to overcome insurmountable problems of proof in this difficult and complex area. In this respect, medical expenses are recoverable not only for direct treatment and diagnosis of a present injury or an injury likely to occur, but for diagnostic tests needed to monitor medically a person who has been substantially exposed to a toxic substance that has created physiological changes indicating a substantial increase in risk that the person will contract a serious illness or disease. The expense of medical monitoring is thus a form of future medical expense and should be treated as such."
Contingency Fees in Europe - Spain's Supreme Court Allows Contingency Fees and Thus Increases the Pressures on Other Nations
I'm back to work after enjoying about 10 days of travel in Europe. Each day of the trip revolved around law in one way or the other and provided some great opportinuties for learning It was great to meet new people and exchange ideas and information about legal systems and law around the world. On and off over the next couple of weeks, some posts here will provide brief comments on some of the exchanges relevant to tort litigation. If interested, read after the line below for more specifics on reasons for the trip and the resulting learning opportunities.
One new piece of knowledge gained is that Spain's Supreme Court ruled last November that contingency fees can not be prohibited and so are now legal in Spain. This news was provided by Albert Azagra Malo, a Spanish law school instructor who has written extensively on mass tort issues and this year was in Chicago to obtain an LLM from the University of Chicago. Albert is a great person and quite learned - you can find him here on LinkedIn.
Overall, the ruling in Spain makes the point that it's time to forget the old bromide that Europe will never allow contingent fees. UK countries and others already allow "uplift" fees that provide a modest fee through a fee multiplier, and the countries are are under increasing pressures to embrace pure contingency fees. Indeed, I spoke with an excellent UK defense lawyer who said he expects to see contngency fees adopted in the UK within the next few years. The ruling in Spain adds to the pressures because the gist of the ruling is that prohibiting contingency fees unduly restricts competition and imposes a minimum fee requirement. Here is a paper - in Spanish - that provides more specifics on the opinion. The SSRN abstract for the paper calls the ruling a revolutionary decision and explains the ruling as follows:
"Contingent fees have been traditionally prohibited in the Spanish legal system. However, on November 4th, 2008, the Spanish Supreme Court rendered a revolutionary decision on the issue. Under Competition Law, the Court quashed the prohibition under the reasoning that it affected competition by restricting the attorney and its client to freely set the price of the legal assistance and, therefore, imposing indirectly a minimum fee."
Among other things, two organized events provided opportunities for learning. One event was an asbestos litigation conference I chaired in London on asbestos claiming around the globe. The conference was attended by lawyers from Australia, UK, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. We made the conference quite interactive and so everyone learned even more.
The second opportunity for learning was a meeting of 99 lawyers from 49 countries for the annual meeting of international law group known as the International Business Law Consortium. The IBLC provides global contacts and resources for medium and small law firms around the world. My law firm has been a member for about 4 years and the meetings, calls and emails offer a great way to meet excellent lawyers and learn more about what's happening in the real world. We also seek to refer work to each other, and thus last month I spent some time working with a lawyer in the Netherlands on trademark issues.
CSX Moving Towards Trial on Claims Against West Virginia Asbestos Plaintiff's Firm Peirce, Raimond & Coulter and Radiologist Ray Harron
An article by Steve Korris in the Madison County Dail Record provides an update on CSX's lawsuit targeting the Pittsburgh-based Peirce, Raimond plaintiff's law firm and radiologist Ray Harron, one of the doctors identified by many as facilitating bogus claiming. The case is set for trial in August on CSX's claims that in essence accuse the law firm and doctor of manufacturing bogus law suits. Here are some key excerpts from the article:
"Baylor's case was a sham," CSX lawyer Marc Williams of Huntington, W.V. wrote to U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp on June 16.During his May 11 deposition, Baylor "had virtually no knowledge of the circumstances" around his representation by Peirce, Raimond and Coulter of Pittsburgh, Williams wrote.
He wrote that Peirce firm lawyers "consistently acted without his authorization."He wrote that at his deposition Baylor identified his own signature on a questionnaire but said handwriting on the asbestos exposure section belonged to someone else.
Stamp plans to start trial Aug. 11 on CSX's fraud conspiracy suit against the Peirce firm, owner Robert Peirce, and radiologist Ray Harron of Bridgeport, W.V."
The Record, as its known, is a great source for general information about litigation developments in some well-known venues for tort litigation. The information comes with a definite but disclosed pro-defense view, as explained here. Different iterations of the Record focus on different "plaintiff-friendly" jurisdictions, including West Virginia (go here) and southeast Texas (go here).
Chinese drywall claims are emerging as a would-be class action issues in the WCI Communities chapter 11 case pending in Delaware. Would be class representatives filed papers seeking permission to present a class proof of claim. WCI has now responded with a brief opposing the class. The opposition is routine in the sense that it follows all the now-standard tactics for seeking to block a class action regarding conditions in buildings. More interesting is the way this debtor wants to treat tort claims individually, in contrast to other "mass tort" cases in bankruptcy in which aggregation is said to be the answer. WCI's opposition brief is here.
WCI explains the issue as follows:
"By her Motions, Goldstein seeks permission to file a claim on behalf of a group of
individuals who have allegedly suffered damages from defective drywall originating from China ("Chinese Drywall") installed in homes by WCI built in Florida. In order to file a class proof of claim, Goldstein also requests that this Court certify a class for purposes of pursuing claims on theories of negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and negligent misrepresentation."
Unlike debtors in some other mass tort cases, the debtors here provided individual mailed notice on a broad scope to potential tort claimants. Specifically, the brief says that notice was sent to all who purchased WCI Homes in the last 10 years:
"6. All individuals or entities that purchased a home built by the Debtors in
the last ten years (the "Home Purchasers") received notice of the commencement of the Chapter 11 Cases and separate actual and constructive notice that February 2, 2009 at 4:00 p.m."
According to the brief, the number of claims filed is small ("over 70"), and so one one sees why the debtor opposes a class action that would increase claims. Also interesting is the Debtor's argument that bankruptcy court can and should individually resolve thousands of tort claims, an argument not heard when debtors and other plan proponents seek to "estimate" claim values.
" 22. Here, just as in Grace and Daigle, joinder is practicable. Despite Goldstein's assumptions, the number of homeowners potentially affected by the Chinese Drywall attributable to WCI is more likely to number in the hundreds, rather than the thousands. To date, over 70 homeowners have filed proofs of claim related to the use of Chinese Drywall in their homes. The media coverage devoted to problems with Chinese Drywall has been extensive. Request for Judicial Notice in Support of the Debtors' Objection to Motion of the Sound at Waterlefe, a Condominium, for Entry of an Order Requiring Debtors to Identify and Notify all Potential Defective Chinese Drywall Claimants of a Potential Defective Chinese Drywall Claim and to Enlarge Time to File Claims Arising from Defective Chinese Drywall ("Request for Judicial Notice") [Docket No. 1786].
This May 12, 2009 post updates a post of Wednesday, April 22, 2009 regarding pleural plaques and asbestos issues in the UK.
The UK press is now reporting that the UK government has now publicly stated that it will not make its decision on pleural plaques legislation until some time prior to Parliament's summer recess. The statement can be seen here in context, but it's brief. The statement says:
"Jack Straw (Lord Chancellor, Ministry of Justice; Blackburn, Labour)
Of course, I fully acknowledge the concern of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members on both sides of the House about that issue. Consideration of the responses, of which we have received quite a number following publication of our paper on the way forward, is taking longer than we anticipated, because of the complexity involved. However, I certainly intend that we should come to conclusions before the summer recess."
Meanwhile, union groups and their supporters have continued to agitate for legislation to once again allow claiming for pleural plaques. A "members bill" was introduced and discussed in Parliament. The discussion can be read here, and reveals that at least some of the legislators are ill-informed on the issues.
My personal opinion is that London will rue the day if it allows plaques claiming to go forward. Plaques claiming in the US was a disaster for companies and Chapter 11 trusts that were swamped by claims from persons with little or no impairment. The April 22 post links to my detailed set of reasons regarding why plaques claiming should not be reinstituted.
Pointoflaw's Walter Olson notes here items related to an Irish article describing Lloyds of London's Chariman as griping out about the amount of tort litigation in Ireland of late. As to global tort litigation, the key quote is this:
"Tort costs are expanding around the world at twice the rate of the global economy. Added to this is the fact that US legal jurisdiction is trying to creep outwards."
The battle over pleural plaques claiming is continuing to evolve in the UK
With respect to the Scottish legislation allowing renewed pleural plaques claiming, an April 21, 2009 Business Insurance article by Sarah Veysey reports that four insurers have now filed the promised lawsuit challenging the pleural plaques legislation in Scotland. The article states: "the four insurers challenging the law represent more than half of the U.K. employers' liability market. They are Aviva P.L.C.; AXA Insurance, the U.K. arm of AXA S.A., RSA Insurance Group P.L.C.; and Zurich Financial Services Group." Much the same information is found on the website for the Association of British Insurers.
Meanwhile, the Brtish government still has not announced its position on pleural plaques. An April 8 article said that London is supposed to provide its answer on plaques "after Easter." The article states in pertinent part:
"Prime Minister (Gordon Brown) has issued a statement that a decision on pleural plaques will be made when Parliament resumes after the Easter recess.
During Prime Minister's Questions Brown was asked (by Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn) what he planned to do to end the compensation injustice for pleural plaques sufferers. Brown replied: "Asbestosis is a terrible disease, and all those who suffer from it deserve the best of help from the public authorities. It is right that we look again at this as a result of legal actions that have been taken about the obligations of insurance companies. "The Justice Secretary will make a statement on this when we return after Easter."
I previously submitted to the government in London a detailed opposition the the pleural plaques claiming. You can see it here.
Wonk 411 posted a comment regarding my April 7 post on GIT. You can read the full comment under the post.
In essence, Wonk 411 trys to justify the GIT result by suggesting that silica exposures are different than asbestos exposures because some silica exposures may be ongoing. Wonk is right that silica exposures may be ongoing. That is, however, a distinction without a difference for at least two reasons. First, Wonk assumes that asbestos exposures are over, but in fact they are ongoing for many products. Second, the theory for enjoining claims is to protect a company against a judgment that might hurt its finances. But that risk of an adverse judgment also arises from new silica exposures as it does from old silica exposures. The risk of adverse judgments also arises if a company issues misleading SEC filings or engages in fraud, but certainly no one would suggest that a bankruptcy court would or should immunize it from being sued. The same risk also arises from suits by state Attorney Generals, which is why they filed an amicus brief discussed in today's post. So, I appreciate Wonk taking the time to comment, but I'd say the comment is wrong. See below as to ongoing asbestos exposures, a subject I know way too well from having litigated asbestos-in-buildings cases for 9 years for GAF and then WR Grace.
In fact, asbestos exposures are or may still be occurring today. How and why is that? Because many asbestos-containing products are still in place, and some of the products may give off fibers if disturbed under certain conditions. Thus, the buidling materials sold by various bankrupt companies remain in place in buildings. For example, W.R. Grace's asbestos-containing Monokote fireproofing is still installed on the beams of many buildings for fire protection. Innumerable feet of wallboard still are joined by joint compounds containing asbestos. Millions of feet of asbestos-containing pipe-covering are still installed in pipe chases and boiler rooms around the nation. Millions of pieces of Congoluem's allegedly dangerous floor tiles also are still in place in hospitals and schools. Want proof? Look at the claims in asbestos bankruptcies that are filed by Dan Speights' law firm as counsel for building owners with asbestos-products still in place. They want lots money to repair or replace the materials even though claimants long ago stopped bringing the claim in the tort system because they could not reliably win the claims. You also clould read Judge Fitzgerald's opinion denigrating the viability of Zonolite insulation claims. You can see the opinion here. The opinion (correctly) concluded as follows:
"Claimants were required to show a disputed material fact to establish that ZAI poses an unreasonable risk of harm. Claimants failed to provide any epidemiological evidence or any risk assessment. They have shown no material fact in dispute. Claimants cited to the OSHA standard as an applicable regulatory yardstick, but failed to account for the lifetime exposure differences between the workplace and a home attic insulated with ZAI. In addition, the evidence established that the risk of exposure from ZAI in the home is less than that of dying in a bicycle accident, by drowning, or from food poisoning.
The various Daubert objections have been addressed in this opinion and will be incorporated into an order.
Without any scientifically reliable evidence indicating that ZAI poses an unreasonable risk of harm, this court must grant Grace's motion for summary judgment in part and deny claimants' motion for summary judgment in part, limited to the threshold issue of unreasonable risk of harm as it pertains to all proofs of claim. While the determination made herein may prove to be fatal to the property damage claims, several different theories of liability were proposed in the individual proofs of claim and may still need to be addressed..... "
American Plaintiff's Lawyers Seeking New Markets Target Global Shipyards for Claiming, Including Claiming Against US Asbestos Trusts
Are American lawyers going abroad to seek out new asbestos claimants? Of course they are. Like any business person, they are seeking new markets.
Shipyards in Europe provide concrete examples. In particular, a March 24, 2009 article describes an American plaintiff's lawyer, Mitchell Cohen, speaking to shipyards workers in Malta, with the group apparently having been assembled the GRW trade union. According to the article, Mr. Cohen was talking about making claims against US asbestos trusts. Likewise, a 2004 article describes Mr. Cohen having been in Spain to speaking to and handing out settlement checks from US asbestos trusts to persons who worked on US Navy vessels in Rota, Spain.
Why shipyards? Shipyards anywhere in the world are great sources for asbestos claiming due to widespread use of asbestos during shipbuilding, including signficant use of the highly toxic amphibole fibers. Indeed, much of America's asbestos claiming arose from shipyards. Now, the claiming pattern is being repeated with claimants from shipyards around the globe seeking to file lawsuits and claims against asbestos trusts established in the US through Chapter 11 proceedings.
-- See also March 11, 2009 update on the entry below -------
Today's entry is unusual, and arises because of fact research I undertook in preparation for a presentation as part of panel focused on "global asbestos claiming" at a March 9-11 BVR/Mealeys seminar on Emerging Trends in Asbestos Litigation. Why write about fact research? Because the research unexpectedly yielded facts indicating that the Johns-Manville asbestos trust is cutting back on transparency regarding claims submitted to and/or paid by the trust.
Specifically, the court-created Manville Trust is now reducing transparency by limiting the availability of online and off-line data on the claims submitted to and/or paid by the trust. As is further detailed below, the Manville Trust is cutting the public availability regarding claims submitted from outside North America ("foreign" or "global" claims data'") and the trust also 2) is no longer allowing outside experts to purchase a license to use digital copies of an up-to-date, comprehensive database of all the data for Manville Trust claims.
In addition to limiting access to data, the Manville Trust also is impairing transparency by modifying its data collection activities. Specifically, as of November 2008, the Trust dropped its long-standing rule requiring claimants to provide their social security numbers. Without submission and tracking of social security numbers, it is harder to distinguish between claimants, and thus harder to detect duplicate and/or fraudulent claiming to the Manville trust, and/or to use the Manville Data as a comparative reference for databases containing other sets of asbestos claims.
Do these changes really matter? Yes.
Why? At the abstract level, the changes matter for those who embrace Justice Brandeis' advice that "sunshine is the best disinfectant." See also Graham, Mary, Is Sunshine the Best Disinfectant? The Promise and Problems of Environmental Disclosure (arguing that environmental disclosure requirements actually have improved environment and policy-making).
At the practical level, the transparency cutbacks matter because the Manville Trust data are embedded in much work that outside experts have for years performed in reliance on Manville Trust data. For example, my fellow blogger, expert witness Steve Sellick, previously licensed and used the Manville Data as part of consulting work involving estimating future claims and/or values. These estimates can matter because in some instances they may be used for evaluating or setting FASB 5 reserves. But, his Manville Data license was recently terminated, as were Manville Data licenses held by other experts, thus leaving the experts without access to up-to-date from a data resource that has been relied on for many years.
Of equal importance, outside experts have for many years relied on Manville Trust data in "liability estimation" proceedings in Chapter 11 asbestos bankruptcies. The liability estimates in these cases sometimes involve billions of dollars per case, and already involve tens of billions of dollars in the aggregate. See, e.g., In re Federal-Mogul Global Inc., 330 BR 133, 144, 149 (D. Del. 2005)(Rodriguez, J.)(opinion on "liability estimation" for Turner & Newall entities; court describes estimate presented for the Asbestos Creditors' Committee and the Futures Representative (Eric Green) by Dr. Mark Peterson, with his estimates of future claims based in part on data regarding claims against the Manville Trust, and a separate estimate for the Asbestos Property Damage Committee by Dr. Robin Cantor, with the future claims portion of the estimate also based in part on data regarding claims against the Manville Trust, and pending claims evaluated in part by imputing data to Turner & Newall claims by "matching data" to the Manville Trust data" ). In Chapter 11 liability estimates, the claiming history of the Manville Trust's may, for example, be pointed to as evidence proving that asbestos claiming rates are rising and falling in general or for certain categories of disease. Indeed, the claiming rate for "nonmalignants" have been and continue to be a key issue for liability estimates. The validity of future estimates also should matter to trustees who must make decisions on how much money to pay out today bearing in mind the amount of expected future claims and payouts. See generally Bates, Charles and Mullen, Charles, Have Your Tort and Eat It Too (PhD economists with extensive asbestos experience describe scope and impacts of the $ 30 billion or so of Chapter 11 asbestos trusts).
Accordingly, the Manville Trust data cutbacks may have extensive financial consequences because the absence of the data makes it harder for experts to provide the best possible predictions from the most comprehensive data. The absence of up-to-date also makes it harder for lawyers to cross-examine experts on their predictions. That matters because in general, claiming rates have fallen significantly since the height of asbestos claiming in the early to mid 2000s. The absence of up-to-date data also may hurt current and/or future asbestos claimants who are best paid fairly if reliable estimates can be and are in fact made. In short, billions of dollars may change hands based on estimates that are being impaired by the absence of the Manville Trust data.
The data cutbacks also matter with respect to duplicate and fraudulent claiming. By 1) terminating the Manville Trust data licenses and 2) allowing claims to be submitted without social security numbers as of November 2008, the Manville Trust is making it harder to weed out duplicate and fraudulent claims submitted to the trust itself. The cutbacks also making it harder for other trusts or defendants to use the Manville Trust data for comparative purposes with respect to their own databases. Making it harder to find claim duplication or fraud is surely the wrong result after all the time and effort that has spent on trying to shut down those particular bad actors who triggered and asserted thousands upon thousands of inaccurate asbestos claims in courts and to trusts. For those who have somehow missed that topic, it has been covered in great detail in law review articles by Professor Lester Brickman, and in Congressional testimony by, among others, Prof. Brickman and an asbestos plaintiff's lawyer who generally represents cancer claimants, Steven Kazan. See, e.g., Brickman, Lester, The Use of Litigation Screenings in Mass Torts: A Formula for Fraud? (August 11, 2008) available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1275406; Testimony of Lester Brickman before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, re: Asbestos: Mixed Dust and FELA Issues, February 2, 2005, available at http://judiciary.senate.gov/testimony.cfm?id=1362 &wit_id=3963; Testimony of Steven Kazan before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, re: The Asbestos Litigation Crisis Continues - It is Time for Congress to Act, March 5, 2003, available at http://www.kazanlaw .com /verdicts/articles/kazan_senate.cfm.
Further specifics are provided below regarding the Manville Trust data cutbacks, but first some background is provided for readers not burdened with the history of asbestos litigation and Johns-Manville.
Background on Johns-Manville and the Manville Asbestos Trust: The Manville Trust is the long-term "solution" created to pay tens of thousands of asbestos disease claims filed against the many Johns-Manville entities that comprised the largest U.S. seller of asbestos products. The various Manville entities filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1982 due to thousands of then-pending asbestos claims, and due to thousands of future additional claims expected to arise due to the immense breadth and volume of Manville's asbestos operations. Manville's operations ranged from mining asbestos fiber to manufacturing and selling literally thousands of asbestos-containing products containing asbestos fibers. The bankruptcy ultimately ended with an injunction that "channeled" all asbestos claims to a new court-ordered "Manville Trust." Once appeals were over, the trust was created, funded and left to pay then-pending claims and subsequent claims. See generally In Re Johns-Manville Corp, 68 B.R. 618 (S.D. N.Y. 1986). The Manville Trust's online home is http://www.mantrust.org/.
Fact Research Effort: For the upcoming panel presentation on global asbestos claiming, I went looking for 2008 data regarding "foreign" claims submitted to the Manville Trust by persons who lived and worked outside North America. It seemed that obtaining the data probably would be simple because the Manville Trust foreign claiming data was easy enough to find in the past. Indeed, my files include copies of previously public Manville Trust foreign claims data for 2006 and 2007. Some of the data were presented at prior asbestos seminars, and other data were available through the Trust's website by using its online links to semi-annual reports submitted to the Court with continuing jurisdiction over the trust. The data indicate that 2007 Manville Trust payments on foreign claims were well over $ 8 million. But, on checking the mantrust.org website for 2008 data, I could not find any 2008 data for the global claims. Moreover, I could not find any website links to or images of a report to the Court for the first six-months of 2008, much less a report for year-end 2008.
Trust Confirms Cutback on Transparency for Data Regarding Foreign Claims: Frustrated because I could not readily find the 2008 global claims data through the trust's webiste, I tried to obtain the 2008 global claiming data by sending a February 16, 2009 email to the Manville Trust through its web site's online submission portal . I approached the problem that way because the website explains: "The Trust's subsidiary and claims resolution facility services provider, the Claims Resolution Management Corporation (the "CRMC"), will respond to your questions about the Trust, its operations and policies at firstname.lastname@example.org or refer to the CRMC homepage at http://www.claimsres.com/."
With those easy to follow instructions in front of me, off went my email to the Trust asking about global claiming data for 2008.
In response, I received a prompt return email from Mr. Jared Garelick, who uses a signature line that describes him as senior attorney with the trust. The gist of his reply (full text pasted below) was to say that the foreign claiming data are no longer being made public, at least at this time. His email reported that the cutbacks in data availability "come as the Manville Trustees, working together with Trust constituencies, have reevaluated the Trust's policies regarding the release of claims filing information."
I sent an email back to ask if the Manville court had approved the cutback on transparency. The response from Mr. Garelick was that the Court had not been asked to approve the cutbacks in transparency. (again, full text of emails is pasted below)
Trust Also Confirms Virtual Elimination of Licensing of Comprehensive Manville Trust Data: I've been involved with asbestos litigation long enough to know that economists and other quantitative types have for years been licensing and using comprehensive Manville Trust claims data as a tool for various types of work, including predicting claim trends and analyses regarding data missing from other claims databases, as well as looking for duplicative or fraudulent claiming by some individuals. Accordingly, I thought perhaps the Manville Trust database would include the 2008 global claiming data I was after, and so made calls and sent emails to some people I believed were licensees of the Manville Trust database. The calls and emails, however, soon yielded the answer that the Manville Trust has been issuing letters terminating license agreements. It thus appeared that the comprehensive, up to date Manville Trust database is now largely or perhaps completely out of the public domain.
So, in my email to the Trust, I asked whether it is true that the Trust has been terminating licenses and is no longer licensing access to the comprehensive Manville Trust database. In response, Mr. Garelick's email confirmed that "CRMC [the administrator for the Trust] has cancelled licenses for comprehensive claims filing databases known as the Manville Trust Data. There is a possibility that licensing might be resumed on a very limited case by case basis when the data is urgently needed for experts in certain court proceedings. Again, I am unable to estimate when any change in this policy might occur." Thus, the Manville Trust once again has cut back on transparency, this time by at least for now having a practice that generally blocks outside experts from accessing previously-available comprehensive data on claims to and payments by the Trust.
Manville Trust No Longer Requires Use of Social Security Numbers by Claimants: While going through the Manville Trust website, I also learned that the trust recently dropped its long-standing rule requiring claimants to submit their social security numbers as part of a claim. Said another way, the Manville Trust has now dropped a rule requiring submission of data that no doubt makes it faster, easier and cheaper to match Manville data to data in other databases, or to find and identify duplicate or fraudulent claims. The rule change is described at the CRMC website (http://www.claimsres.com/), at the right hand side of the home page text block, in a field that includes text stating the following:
"Updated on 11/11/08
"---CRMC will now allow the filing of a claim for a claimant with US exposure without a SSN. However, in that instance you will be required to provide evidence as to how that individual was exposed to JM product within the US. If you are an electronic filer you will receive a notice via the message board indicating that a MV-Exposure Document is required. You must supply specific proof from the claimant detailing how they were exposed."
Disclaimer and Disclosure: Statements of opinon on this blog and/or presentations at asbestos seminars represent my personal views, and are not views of clients. Clients do not pay for my time to write blog entries and do not see blog entries prior to publishing. Clients also do not pay for my time to write or give presentations on asbestos litigation, and do not see presentations prior to submission to the seminar sponsor. My perspective admittedly is shaped by my twenty-five years of work as a commercial litigator and "asbestos lawyer." Since 1984, I have represented and do represent entities that are defendants in asbestos litigation, or are financially linked to asbestos litigation through indemnity obligations and/or "shared insurance." In addition, I have represented and do represent non-insurer entities opposed to certain terms of certain asbestos bankruptcies. Further specifics are available on my bio at my law firm's website (www.butlerrubin.com), or email me at email@example.com if you need further information.
Set out below are cut and paste copies of the two emails I sent to the Manville Trust, and the two response emails sent by Mr. Garelick
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, February 16, 2009 12:37 PM
Subject: Questions Regarding the Availability of Data Regarding "Foreign Claims" and Manville Claims Data in General
Dear Sir or Madam:
Pursuant to instructions on the Manville and CRMC websites, I am writing to this address to pose the questions set out below regarding the availability of data from the Manville Trust or its agents ( such as CRMC.) In general, I'd like to find about the availability of information on payments by the Manville Trust for "foreign" claims ( meaning claims for exposures outside the US or Canada), and whether the previously available "Manville Trust Data" will again be made available to experts through licensing or other arrangements. The specific questions are as follows.
1) In the past, Mr. David Austern occasionally provided country-specific Manville claims data at various asbestos-seminars, as illustrated by the attached image of data from a prior presentation. My office has searched across your website, but we could not find country-specific foreign claims data on your website or in the quarterly or annual reports. Is country-specific foreign claims and/or payment data available from you in some format for 2008 (or all years), and what do I need to do to obtain the data?
2) Past annual trustee's reports on your website, such as the 2007 report, provided some overall but not country-specific data regarding "foreign" claims (the generic data is set out in each report's Exhibit B regarding claims information. Examples are attached.) We've not been able to find such reports for the first or second half of 2008. Are such reports available for 2008, and what do I need to do to obtain them?
3) What is the status of the availability of the claims and payments data commonly known as the "Manville Trust Data"? And, does that data set include country-specific data on foreign claims and payments? I ask because I've heard for many years that most asbestos data experts used to have a license agreement to use the Manville Trust Data, and used that data to run comparisons to other databases of asbestos claims information in a process sometimes called "match to Manville." But today I've heard some experts say that Manville/CRMC has terminated license agreements for the Manville Trust Data and that the Manville Trust Data is no longer available for review and comparison by persons outside of the Trust/CRMC. Is is true that the Manville Trust/CRMC terminated data license agreements with such experts, and is it true that the Manville Trust Data is no longer being licensed today to outside users? If true, why were those actions taken? And, if true, was the bankruptcy court asked to approve those actions, when, and are the relevant papers available through you or PACER? When, if ever, do you expect the situation to change?
Thanks very much for your time and attention to these questions. I am giving an unpaid presentation regarding global asbestos claiming on March 11 at a Mealey's seminar on asbestos trends, and your answers of course would be helpful to have before the presentation.
Kirk T. Hartley
Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd
3 First National Plaza - Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60602
02/18/2009 10:45 AM
Re: Questions Regarding the Availability of Data Regarding "Foreign Claims" and Manville Claims Data in General
Dear Mr. Hartley,
The Manville Trust claims filing information you seek is not currently publicly available. As your research indicates, the Trust did make such information available in the past. The change has come as the Manville Trustees, working together with Trust constituencies, have reevaluated the Trust's policies regarding the release of claims filing information. During the pendency of the reevaluation, which is ongoing, the Trust has declined to make available certain information that it previously did. As you observed, this includes a reduction in the claims filing information the Trust provides in its reports. Whether or to what extent the policy will change is uncertain. You should not count on this type of information becoming publicly available again, at least in the near term.
You are also correct that CRMC has cancelled licenses for comprehensive claims filing databases known as the Manville Trust Data. There is a possibility that licensing might be resumed on a very limited case by case basis when the data is urgently needed for experts in certain court proceedings. Again, I am unable to estimate when any change in this policy might occur.
I am sorry we are not able to be of more assistance. Good luck with your presentation.
Very truly yours,
Jared S. Garelick
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:25 PM
To: Jared Garelick
Subject: Re: Questions Regarding the Availability of Data Regarding "Foreign Claims" and Manville Claims Data in General
Dear Mr. Garelick:
Thank you for your very timely response to my email inquiry of February 16 to the Manville Trust.
Your response is clear except that it does not explicitly address whether the Manville bankruptcy court was asked to or did approve any of the cutbacks in the availability of information. I infer that approval was not requested or received, but may I impose on you to explicitly address the topic.
Again, thank you for your assistance.
Very Truly Yours,
Kirk T. Hartley
Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd
3 First National Plaza - Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60602
02/18/2009 12:42 PM
Subject RE: Questions Regarding the Availability of Data Regarding "Foreign Claims" and Manville Claims Data in General
Your inference is correct. The Manville Trust's supervising courts were not asked to approve the reduction in the availability of Trust claims filing information.
Very truly yours,
UK Government to Speak "Soon" on Whether to Support Payments for Persons With Pleural Plaques Attributed to Asbestos Inhalation
A prior post on this blog described the UK government issuing a Consultation paper requesting views and information on, among other things, whether it should support legisaltion to cause compensation to be payable persons diagnosed as having pleural plaques attributed to asbestos inhalation. The UK government had said it would provide its position during November 2008, but did not do so. On February 11, 2009, however, Gordon Brown publicly said the Government will "soon" announce its view.
I submitted to the UK government a detailed outline of reasons why my opinion is that payments should not be made for pleural plaques. The paper is available here.
Below is the Q and A that prompted the comments by Gordon Brown.
House of Commons debates
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Oral Answers to Questions -- Prime Minister
Michael Clapham (Barnsley West & Penistone, Labour) The Prime Minister will be aware that it is almost 18 months since the Law Lords made a decision denying compensation to people suffering from pleural plaques as a result of negligent exposure to asbestos. Does he agree with me that we can restore justice and fairness only if that Law Lords' decision is overturned?
Gordon Brown (Prime Minister; Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, Labour) I met my hon. Friend last week and we talked about this very issue. It is very important that we get a resolution following the court judgment on pleural plaques. The Secretary of State for Justice has been looking at this matter and talking to his colleagues right across Government about the implications of what can be done, and I can assure my hon. Friend that an announcement will be made very soon.
How should governments and courts decide/define when persons have a condition that should warrant payment of compensation through tort claims or through government agency programs ? The question is relevant in many settings, but the issues I know best relate to asbestos litigation. The question is presently the subject of discussion in a variety of jurisdictions and contexts.
Issues of this sort are under discussion in the UK. There, asbestos-related cancers are increasing significantly, and so are lawsuits seeking damages for the cancers. Paying compensation for cancer is easy to understand in many instances. However, some groups want to go further. Thus, some constituencies are urging the UK government (Britain and Wales, for this purpose) to use legislation to change recent case law so that payments may or will be paid to persons who can be deemed to have a condition known as "pleural plaques." Plaques are marks on a lining outside the lung, and the plaques are markers of past asbestos inhalation, but do not cause any impairment except, perhaps, in unique circumstances.
These issues arise because the House of Lords issued an opinion holding that common law compensation was not payable, concluding in essene that plaques do not constitute an injury. Subsequently, the UK Ministry of Justice issued a 9 July 2008 "Consultation" paper asking for views on whether the UK government should use legislation to allow or facilitate payment of compensation to persons with pleural plaques. The UK Consultation paper is a lengthy document setting out information about the issues, and five possible alternatives for government action, with a cost estimate for each of the five proposals. The government's Consultation paper is available online at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp1408.htm.
Many papers were submitted on both sides of the issues, and the collection will be posted here as time permits. For now, I've posted online an image of the paper I submitted in opposition to the two most extreme aspects of the proposals set out in the Consultation paper.
The UK Government is expected to submit a reply to all the papers, and the reply is expected during November 2008.
A new en banc 5th Circuit opinion from a strongly divided court grants the extraordinary remedy of mandamus to overturn perceived forum shopping related to a "rocket docket" in the Eastern District of Texas. Much is being made of this opinion in many contexts, including patent law and product liability cases.
Opinions on venues and "rocket dockets" are taking on even more importance as litigants seek fast outcomes and ROI. That said, the Illinois Supreme Court has been issuing rulings since 1983 trying to stop perceived forum shopping in Illinois with respect to Madison and St. Clair counties (and other venues) but those counties remain extraordinarily active venues.
Global tort litigation issues continue to evolve. Last fall, the UK's highest court decided that it would not permit recovery of money as compensation for persons found to have "pleural plaques." Pleural plaques are generally deemed benign markers of past inhalation of asbestos fibers. Now, on July 9, the British government issued a request for comments on whether to use legislation to overturn the decision precluding damages.
Specifically, the "consultation" process calls for interested persons to submit views on whether persons with "pleural plaques" should be allowed a chance to recover damages for the physical change in the lungs or anxiety. The consultation paper, number 14/08, is viewable here.
So, what's at stake? In dollars, it's some number of billions; current estimates probably will prove to be too low, just like most other estimates of asbestos costs. In lives, the issue may or may not have significance. Pleural plaques generally are thought not to impair life function in any way, but they generally are considered a marker for past asbestos inhalation. Some may argue that finding those people now will help them later avoid premature deaths by leading them to annual health screenings with a focus on their particular risks.
Back to dollars. The consultation likely will become a fight between insurers and insureds as to which entities pay how much. Insurers and reinsurers will have issues between them. The process also will include battles between solvent entities and entities that claim to be insolvent or are pursuing "schemes of arrangement." Schemes of arrangement? They are end of corporate life financial engineering tools. Insurers like to say that the schemes free up capital to return to the marketplace and stimulate business. Insureds like to say that schemes improperly allow insurers to avoid IBNR claims, which are claims that are foreseeble based on past events, but that have not yet been filed because, for example, the future claimant does not yet know that a mesothelioma tumor already has formed and is growing, at a microscopic level.
Note also that government agencies will have a financial stake. Legislation may help them avoid paying the massive health care costs that may accrue when a mesothelioma is found "early."
The issues also may be described more broadly. This could be a chance to find a fair compensation and medical treatment plan that avoids the many flaws in the current American systems, and to think carefully about how one defines who is "sick" or when they are "injured." This could be a chance to limit attorneys' fees to modest amounts. This could be a chance to take a long term view. This could be a chance to look for new answers.
Update - Japanese Asbestos Litigation Ramps Up - Suit by 178 Plaintiffs Names 46 Companies and Government as Defendants
In a prior article of May 18, we noted an asbestos lawsuit in Japan. Since then, the lawsuit has not received much press, nor has there been a public annoucment of the filing of the second lawsuit that was indicated when the existing lawsuit was filed. My efforts to obtain the complaint from the plaintiff's firm were turned down by that firm, citing ethical issues since I represent defendants. One wonders what issues are involved in providing a copy of a public document. In any event, it appears that the plaintiff's firm also is not sharing the complaint with Laurie Kazan Allen or others on the plaintiff's side since her website now refers to the lawsuit, but only to the original press release/article in Wikipedia. http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_jap_cause_effect.php. The complaint also has not appeared in Mealeys, HarrisMartin or other publications that follow asbestos litigation.
Asbestos litigation is ramping up in Japan. The English language version of a Japanese newspaper article reports that a lawsuit was filed in Japan late last week on behalf of 178 contruction workers (or their heirs) against 46 building products companies and agencies of the Japanese government. The article does not identify the defendants, or the lawyers. The articel also says that "About 40 construction workers from Kanagawa Prefecture will also file a similar suit at the Yokohama District Court in June."
A parallel article on Wikinews adds some quotes from workers, but not much more.
Surprisingly, the website of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat does not yet include an article on the topic. That may well change.
Recent news has been full of stories about rapid general inflation around the world, especially increased food costs leading to protests (and worse) around the globe. Today's news also include an article from the NYT that details soaring co-payment expenses in the US. For a tort lawyer, these articles bring to mind an ongoing tort litigation issue: the propensity to file tort claims.
The tort litigation world includes much argument and posturing regarding propensity to claim. The debate about claiming is made somewhat useless when the two sides cite extreme examples of fraud, which can be either inarguably fraudulent claiming or inarguably fraudulent corporate conduct. What it would be good to see is a meaningful article looking at the propensity to claim as a function of micro economic events, such as manufacturing plant closings, or as a function of the elimination or reduction of medical benefits by a company, especially for retirees. One also wonders of there is meaningful correlation between claiming and macro numbers for inflation of unemployment. Please speak up if you know of any research on these points - I've not seen any.
Until there is research, I'll rely on my personal observation that it seems plain that prospective plaintiffs are often-created when a business closes a plant, completely terminates its retiree medical insurance plans, or insurance benefits are materially reduced. Indeed, when manufacturing plants close, some plaintiff's firms sometimes target the former plant workers as potential plaintiffs, and medical screenings may follow if the plant included use of "toxins." Simply put, otherwise proud and independent retirees who have significant medical issues sometimes say "off the record" that tort litigation is the only means they know of to try to create cash flow sufficient to cover medical expenses. Thus, corporations and governments sometimes may actually be "the cause" behind increased tort claiming. Thinking globally, one would think that global tort claiming will increase as economic changes are harder and harder on the middle class and on those persons already at the bottom of the economic ladder.