Pa. Supreme Court Ruling Reportedly Prolongs Extreme Asbestos Litigation System

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling last week regarding asbestos liability limits will only exacerbate the out-of-control asbestos litigation system in the state and can potentially delay or prohibit a truly sick claimant from receiving fair legal and financial remedies, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

In a 4-3 vote, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court repealed a state law that limits the asbestos liability of corporations formed as a result of merges and consolidations. The high court found the law unconstitutional.

“Property and casualty insurers believe that it is imperative for state legislators to take corrective action on the huge asbestos lawsuit problem for Pennsylvania-based companies,” said John Lobert, PCI’s senior vice president of state legislative affairs. “PCI agrees with the dissenting justices that more flexibility is needed, and the scope of asbestos liability needs to be limited. Lawmakers need to address the problems associated with litigation abuse to allow the Pennsylvania tort system to address only those cases pertaining to the deserving litigant, who has met both the medical and exposure criteria.”

The Feb. 20 decision means that packaging manufacturer Crown Cork & Seal Co. has been reinstated as a defendant in more than 350 pending asbestos cases. A lower court had earlier dismissed claims against the company based on the 2001 state law. Crown Cork & Seal acquired a company that had a subsidiary that manufactured asbestos insulation, but Crown Cork never operated that subsidiary and sold it within 90 days. The company argued that it shouldn’t be liable for more than the $336 million in asbestos claims it already has paid. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature cannot retroactively eliminate claims already filed under previously existing law.

According to the PCI, awards continue to increase and the truly ill claimant will continue to receive less or will die before compensation is received unless meaningful reform is enacted. Today, 80 different types of industries are being sued, and more than 6,000 companies have been named as defendants.

“Asbestos litigation has reached crisis proportions in the United States,” continued Lobert. “Expanded asbestos liability cases are having a tremendous impact on small, main-street businesses. The most effective approach to control the scope of asbestos cases is through legal reform and the establishment of medical criteria.

“The asbestos litigation machine is being driven by trial lawyers who hope to personally pocket millions of dollars from ongoing litigation and who hope to derail efforts to correct an out-of-control asbestos litigation system. Unimpaired claimants are clogging the system and potentially prohibiting the truly sick claimant with a severe asbestos-related illness from receiving fair legal and financial remedies.”