Lots of efforts to project asbestos litigation involve efforts to understand and forecast filing patterns, and resolution rates. On that topic, it’s worth remembering that budget cuts in state courts often always lead to fewer judge and case backlogs. A recent example can be found in the efforts to resolve “Libby asbestos cases.” A December 26, 2018 article at Montana NPR illustrates the point, as it recaps statistics on the cases and the appointment of six additional judges to hear the cases.
Montana’s Supreme Court has appointed six more judges to the state’s year-old asbestos claims court.
Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin says some people have had cases pending for more than 15 years, and without the appointment of the additional judges, “It could take decades to get these cases tried.”
Montana’s asbestos claims court has identified more than 2,200 pending cases alleging asbestos exposure against more than 40 individual defendants. The supreme court’s appointment of six more judges this month is a relief to attorneys and claimants in the thick of the battle.
The asbestos claims court was an attempt to meet the demands of both claimants and defendants. District Judge Amy Eddy in Flathead County was the first appointed to it, and she says adding six more judges only scratches the surface of the demand for legal resolutions.
“Well frankly it’s not nearly enough,” Eddy says. “We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of cases to try across primarily northwest Montana.”
Eddy says the Montana judiciary as a whole is understaffed and underfunded. The now seven judges working on the asbestos claims court are doing so voluntarily without additional compensation on top of already hefty workloads. It’s not a light undertaking.
“The Asbestos Claims Court is handling some of the most long-standing and complicated toxic exposure cases that the judiciary has handled in Montana. I’m unaware of any other litigation with this scope of complexity and history in the state courts.”
Montana’s Supreme Court anticipates an additional 200 asbestos exposure cases to crop up each year in the foreseeable future.