The New York based Manhattan Institute think tank today released a report very critical of the Asbestos litigation business. Asbestos litigation is the “longest running mass tort in US history, and arguably the most unjust” the introduction tells us.

Asbestos litigation does seem to have become a sub-genre of the legal profession. And the facts and figures in the report are staggering. They calculate that litigation over the past 30 years has resulted in $70 billion changing hands and has bankrupted more than 80 companies. However only $30 billion actually made it to the plaintiffs, the rest ending up fleecing the pockets of the legal profession.

The report goes no to claim that the legal industry is going to great lengths to attract new customers by using sophisticated marketing. And although the instances of new cases of Mesothemiola has remained fairly constant with 2000-4000 new cases per year, the number of lawsuits has spiraled, peaking in 2001 with 100,000 suits being filed.

“Ultimately, the attorneys bully besieged defendants into settlements that enrich Trial Lawyers, Inc., while genuinely injured claimants high and dry.”

The report calls the asbestos litigation process a “lawsuit assembly line” that features six steps:

Creative Television, radio, direct mail and Internet advertising by the attorneys

Actively seeking potential clients by hiring companies to find workers who may have been exposed to asbestos and also conducting ‘free’ screenings in vans to attract customers.

Tame Doctors rubber-stamping standard diagnoses: The results from 456 initial screenings, performed by what are called “B” readers, were somewhat discredited by a Johns Hopkins University study that compared the findings of “B” readers (95.9 percent found lung abnormalities) and the results of independent radiologists (4.5 percent).

Filing mass tort claims: Trial lawyers packaged their claims and filed them in plaintiff-friendly legal environments like Mississippi, West Virginia, Texas and Madison County, Ill.

The Courts are overwhelmed and companies pay: From 1993-2001, only 1,598 out of hundreds of thousands of asbestos claims went to trial.

The big payday comes from the settlement, with more than half of the money received being kept by the legal industry.

All in all this report does not paint a pretty picture of the state of play.

Simon Barrett

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