Ortiz v Fibreboard Corporation
Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corporation was one of the pivotal class actions that resulted in Supreme Court decisions that ultimately protected employees who suffered asbestos exposure from unreasonable restrictions on future claims. Thousands of claimants sued Fibreboard annually during the 1980s and 1990s, and Fibreboard’s insurers wouldn’t pay the claims. In 1990 the court ruled against the insurers, but they appealed.
Fibreboard invited several of the plaintiffs’ attorneys to try to work out a “global settlement.” While a tentative agreement was reached, it could be settled only pending claims, and was subject to court approval. Some of the named plaintiffs had their attorney file a separate class action to address the specific needs of claimants that have the common potential for latent manifestation of asbestos-related disease. These groups were included in the classes so defined:
a) Claimants who had not yet sued Fibreboard
b) Those who had dismissed such claims and retained the right to sue in the future, and
c) Relatives of class members
Running Out of Funds
Fibreboard had paid out huge claims prior to 1959 under one insurance contract that ended during that year. Asbestos exposure claims filed in later years resulted in litigation with insurance companies who ultimately paid most of them; however, this left Fibreboard with very limited assets to pay future claims.
Ultimately the initial claims triggered a series of attempts to simplify the claims process. These actions in turn caused a class action and resulted in a decision that protected the rights of future claimants to receive reimbursement from funds that would otherwise be depleted by those filing first. This case was decided in June 1999, taking into consideration another asbestos exposure case decided two years prior.
First Failed Effort
That case, Amchem Products, Inc., et al. v. Windsor et al protected the class distinctions, and specifically the rights of future claimants in a class action certified to file as a group with distinctly common issues, rather than the single common issue of asbestos exposure. Such distinctions would differentiate claimants whose losses result from definitive diagnosis of a specific asbestos disease from those whose losses and expenses differed due to meeting lesser but still significant criteria, other members of the family being affected, different degrees of physical impairment such as lung plaques but no active disease, mental anguish, and other losses the asbestos exposure had effected.
These cases attempted to find a common solution to a problem that had more variables than the defendants were willing to consider. While such a solution could be valuable, it would need to ensure an equitable reimbursement for all claimants, over time, and to consider inflation, changes in medicine and treatment that have not yet been discovered, and other unknown factors. That’s a big order.
Brown Kiely, LLP, experienced asbestos exposure lawyers, trained specifically in asbestos cases, and in matching your case to a class action. They can help you make the difference between just getting by, and living the fullness of life for as long as you can. Please contact Brown Kiely, LLP for a free consultation.
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