Asbestos Law Information

Number of Parties

In the early years of asbestos litigation, there were a number of factors that inhibited judicial speed and efficiency. Some of these factors continue to plague asbestos cases. First, there is the sheer number of parties. In asbestos cases hundreds of plaintiffs may join in an action based on exposure to the same products at a common work site.12 Because most plaintiffs have been exposed to a variety of products in a variety of employment settings, it is not unusual for plaintiffs to join twenty or more defendants from the asbestos industry.13 Those defendants, in turn, may bring third-party complaints against the federal government and other producers and may bring cross-claims against each other. These primary cases may produce secondary litigation in the form of declaratory judgment actions regarding the scope of insurance coverage.14 Such actions may involve disputes about whether an insurer has a duty to defend an action and pay any judgment. All of these actions produce paperwork that renders the asbestos cases voluminous, if not complex. The multiplicity of actions may also lead to delays caused by the need to decide preliminary issues in secondary litigation (such as the duty of an insurer to defend) before the primary case can proceed. Chapter 11 proceedings in bankruptcy court have also postponed jury trials against those companies that have filed petitions.15

  1. In Austinv. Johns-Manville, No. 75-754 (D.N.J. filed May 6, 1975), there were 687 named plaintiffs.
  2. Parrish, supra note 2, at 6-7; see also Hamilton, Rabinovitz and Szanton, Inc., supra note 6, at 22.
  3. See, e.g., Comment, Adjudicating Asbestos Insurance Liability: Alternatives to Contract Analysis, 97 Harv. L. Rev. 739, 739 & nn.3 & 5 (1984); Case Comment, Insurance Law and AsbestosisWhen Is Coverage of a Progressive Disease Triggered?—Keene Corp. v. Insurance Company ofNorth America, 58 Wash. L. Rev. 63 (1982).
  4. See generally Special Project, supra note 8, at 809-10, 826-28, In general, issues relating to the reorganization of defendants were not on the conference agenda and are beyond the scope of this report.