Asbestos has been known as one of the most dangerous risks to employees’ health since the late 1920s. In 1927 the first workers’ compensation claim for asbestosis was filed. Johns Manville, a well-known asbestos company settled a 1933 claim with eleven employees, all of whom had asbestosis. The settlement was contingent upon a stipulation that the plaintiffs’ attorney agreed never again to “directly or indirectly participate in the bringing of new actions against the Corporation.”
The Floodgates Open
Johns Manville was again the subject of a lawsuit in 1982 in which the judgment awarded plaintiff James Cavett $3.8 million in damages. Two months later, still faced with 16,500 asbestos lawsuits The Manville Corporation filed for bankruptcy.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a flood of asbestos claims, and many of these ended up on the U.S. Supreme Court docket as class actions. Many large corporations ended up in or near bankruptcy as a result.
Tipping the Scales of Justice
Some made efforts to limit their liability by attempting to design settlements that were less than ideal. Two major faults with proposed plans were the lack of consideration for future claimants who had not yet shown symptoms of disease, and putting all of those exposed to asbestos into a single class that had no commonality other than exposure to asbestos, thus failing to account for the wide range of damages suffered by the victims.
These two plans were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 617 (1997) and Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815 (1999).
With Intent to Deceive
Knowing that the Johns-Manville Corporation had a history of hiding evidence of the damages its employees were suffering as a result of asbestos exposure, Ronald Motley, a South Carolina attorney had a rather unflattering opinion of the company. He described them as “the greatest corporate mass murderer in history.” One example is a memo from the company’s medical director to its corporate headquarters that read:
“The fibrosis of this disease is irreversible and permanent so that eventually compensation will be paid to each of these men. But, as long as the man is not disabled it is felt that he should not be told of his condition so that he can live and work in peace and the company can benefit by his many years of experience.”
In Your Defense
If you ever felt hesitant about filing a claim for the damages you and your family suffer as a result of your employer exposing you to asbestos, keep that memo in mind. You paid dearly for the opportunity to support your family, but your life and health were not part of the agreement. Please contact the experienced mesothelioma lawyers in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Brown | Kiely, LLP to schedule a free consultation.