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Is Asbestos Litigation Breathing Its Last?
August 10, 2018
Hardly, but it appears to be on a downward trend, or possibly at “top of the bell curve” to be followed by “a long, slow, gradual decline,” according to Mark Behrens, a defense attorney and co-chair of the public policy practice group at Shook Hardy & Bacon in Washington. His comment appears in an article about a dramatic fall-off in asbestos cases in Los Angeles County. A decline in LA country or anywhere else would be due in part to the decreasing number of asbestos-exposed workers remaining alive, but stricter discovery rules and the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in the Bristol Myers Squibb case, which curtailed forum shopping, also are likely playing a part, according to Behrens. Commenting in another publication, the Cook County Record, Behrens suggested the decline in asbestos cases nationally may also be due in part to the major asbestos plaintiff firms diversifying into other litigation “such as opioids or that some of the less reliable or weaker claims are being pursued in the trust system. Tort reforms such as asbestos trust transparency laws and court rulings excluding some plaintiff experts also could be a factor.” Meanwhile, the online newsletter Legal Newsline opined on a dramatic development on the asbestos litigation front: the conviction and seven-year prison sentence of attorney and former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver was alleged to have used his influence to funnel grants to a physician who would refer asbestos patients to law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver was of counsel. The Silver case will discourage but won’t stop abusive asbestos litigation, according to one mass tort litigation attorney quoted in the article. Earlier this year in another article, summarizing the results of a quantitative study of asbestos litigation trends carried out by the consulting firm KCIC, Legal Newsline reported that asbestos lawsuits “declined last year, but the number remains high, concentrated in certain jurisdictions, and filed by a small grouping of firms.” Legal Newsline, the Northern California Record and the Cook County Record are part of a chain of newsletters owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, covering legal developments in state court systems, particularly in some of the major U.S. litigation hot spots.