Methodology

Building on information gathered at the Asbestos Case Manage­ment Conference held in Baltimore, Maryland, in June 1984,4 I conducted interviews in ten federal judicial districts with moderate to heavy asbestos caseloads. In each district, I talked with partici­pants in asbestos litigation, including district judges, magistrates, law clerks, clerks of court, deputy clerks, and attorneys for plain­tiffs and defendants. In all, I held interviews with approximately sixty-one lawyers, twenty-seven representing plaintiffs (including at least five with national practices) and thirty-four representing defendants (including ten regional counsel for the Wellington As­bestos Claims Facility).5 I also conducted interviews with twenty-one federal judges, three federal magistrates, three law clerks, nine clerks of court or chief deputy clerks, and eight deputy clerks. All of the interviews were conducted during the period from March 31, 1986, to October 16,1986.

I selected districts for inclusion in the study by gathering data from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts regarding case­loads of pending and terminated asbestos cases through June 30, 1984. The aim was to include courts that had heavy or moderate caseloads (more than one hundred filings) and that showed a wide range of disposition rates. The courts selected were the districts of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, Western Penn­sylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Eastern Louisiana, Eastern Texas, Northern Ohio, and Eastern Tennessee. Their caseloads and disposition to filing ratios are set forth in the Appendix.6

  1. This conference of judges, magistrates, clerks of court, deputy clerks, and a spe­
    cial master was sponsored by the Federal Judicial Center in consultation with the
    Clerks’ Division of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A report of the
    major conclusions of the conference was published as T. Willging, Asbestos Case
    Management: Pretrial and Trial Procedures (Federal Judicial Center 1985).
  2. The Asbestos Claims Facility, also known as the Wellington Facility, is an in­
    stitution created by contractual agreement of more than thirty defendants in asbes­
    tos cases. Mediated by Professor Harry Wellington of the Yale Law School at the
    behest of the Center for Public Resources, the claims facility is designed to provide a
    common defense for asbestos claims and to provide a means of processing claims
    without a need to resort to litigation. See generally Wellington, Asbestos: The Pri­
    vate Management of a Public Problem, 33 Clev. St. L, Rev. 375 (1984-85).
  3. These courts exhibited a wide range of caseload distributions and percentage of
    dispositions. The percentages ranged from 2.7 percent to 80.9 percent. The median
    number of filings per court was 487; the median percentage of dispositions was 27.6
    percent for all ten courts.

Several courts with caseloads in the moderate to heavy range, such as the South­ern District of Mississippi, the Southern District of Texas, and the Eastern District of Virginia, were not included in the study for a variety of logistical reasons. The ten districts selected were all among the fifteen districts with the most filings.