Asbestos Law Information

Increases in Personnel

Conference participants made several suggestions for improving the personnel situation in courts with large asbestos case backlogs. As the discussion in the section entitled “Statistics and Allocation of Resources” supra indicates, all the participants questioned whether current statistical measures adequately show the impact that asbestos cases with multiple claimants have on judicial resources. Further study may result in suggestions for some  long-term improvements. The problem, however, is current and demands immediate attention.

One suggestion was that a task force of experienced trial judges travel to the problem districts and schedule and try as many asbestos cases as possible. Such a step would produce more bases for set­tlement through jury verdicts and would also lend credibility to trial dates. Use of judges unfamiliar to the lawyers in the district might produce a degree of uncertainty that would aid the negotia­tion process. At the same time, the visiting judge could educate the local bench and perhaps demystify the complexity of asbestos trials.

Another suggestion for dealing with the personnel issue was to develop a team of senior judges who could oversee pretrial management of asbestos cases. By directing the cases to senior judges, the other members of the court would be free to handle the balance of the docket. This proposal, however, seems similar to the delegation of asbestos cases to magistrates for pretrial work. The effect would be that only the magistrate or senior judge would be familiar with the cases, and assignment of the cases to other judges for trial would become problematic. Unless the senior judges were from out­side the district, which seems unlikely, such a procedure would not add to the judicial resources of the district. It would, however, focus such resources on asbestos cases, and that in itself is salu­tary.