Our society is becoming increasingly litigious with people suing for almost anything. And lawsuit amounts have skyrocketed over the last 50 years. One typical example is in the asbestos litigation category.
Although, asbestos use was halted in the 1970s, due to the long period before symptoms of asbestos damage shows up, asbestos related lawsuits are still prevalent. In the United States, approximately 600,000 people have filed suits claiming damages caused by asbestos, and asbestos litigation has become the largest mass tort in history. Despite the decline in the number of people diagnosed with asbestos related diseases (such as mesothelioma cancer) since the 1990s, asbestos litigation has seen a dramatic increase in settlement payout amounts.
The Trend in Rising Settlement Amounts
One of the first asbestos lawsuits was Borel v. Fibreboard Corporation, in which Clarence Borel won $13,000. More recently, in 2003, two settlements, one for $47 million, and another for $250 million, were awarded to victims. The latter two settlements are the largest known asbestos-related litigation settlements in history. In 2011, a settlement of $10.5 million was also awarded to a victim with asbestos-related health problems. If Mr. Borel were alive he would find the million dollar amounts that are now involved in settlements hard to believe.
Changes in Inflation Contribute to Large Settlements
The rising settlement amounts in asbestos cases can be at least partially attributed to inflation. Borel was diagnosed with an asbestos related disease in 1969. Since that year, inflation has accounted for a large change in the value of a dollar. The $13,000 that Borel received is equivalent to $82,518.83 today. A $13,000 settlement would not be acceptable today, especially with the rising costs of health care but even $82,000 is no where near $10 million. Settlements are meant to provide compensation for any out-of-pocket funds that people have had to use to treat their asbestos-related diseases. But modern day settlements are much higher than what can be accounted for by monetary inflation alone.
Companies Declare Bankruptcy; Courts Set Aside Money for Victims
After Borel won $13,000 against Fibreboard Corporation, he decided to sue 11 more asbestos producing companies. When he won, he set a precedent for asbestos victims. Soon after, those who had been exposed to asbestos and had asbestos related symptoms began going after asbestos producing companies in the courtroom. The companies couldn’t handle the wave of lawsuits: in 1982, the first asbestos company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Many others followed suit. As more and more companies went bankrupt, however, the courts began setting aside money for future compensation for those affected by asbestos.
Settlements Save Time, Money, and Stress for Companies
As mentioned Borel set a precedent for asbestos victims. Going further, he (or his lawyers) actually changed the course of personal injury lawsuits. Today, it is nearly impossible for a person to lose a case against an asbestos company, assuming that they have actually suffered damages. Asbestos lawyers have a high success rate, which has contributed to the increased number of asbestos related litigation firms. Going to trial can take years, and requires a large amount of time, money, and stress for both sides involved in the suit. Rather than spend the money and time in a courtroom, companies are opting to pay out settlements to those who take legal action against them.
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About the Author:
Blake Littleton is a freelance writer primarily interested in tort based litigation. Should you need assistance with an asbestos exposure case, Blake recommends Shrader Law, a trusted law firm in the area of asbestos litigation.
Image courtesy of Suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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