Asbestos Case Law: Past And Present

  • May 15, 2024

Understanding the Basics: What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring mineral fibers known for their durability and resistance to heat, electricity, and chemical damage. These attributes made it an ideal material for use in a wide range of industrial applications, including insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. Despite its virtues, prolonged and unprotected exposure to asbestos can lead to severe health complications including lung disease. The fibers of asbestos are flexible and can be woven into fabric or mixed with cement. The use of asbestos dates back thousands of years, but its commercial exploitation began in the late 19th century.

Historical Overview: The Use of Asbestos in Industries

The industrial use of asbestos skyrocketed in the 20th century. It was extensively used in the construction industry for its strength, insulation properties, and resilience. This was a period marked by a surge in urban development and industrial growth, thereby demanding more and more heat-resistant materials. In addition to these qualities, the affordability of asbestos also contributed significantly to its widespread use. The shipbuilding industry used asbestos for insulating boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry used it for vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos was considered a ‘miracle mineral’ until its health hazards were discovered.

The Turning Point: Evolution of Asbestos Lawsuits

The first asbestos-related lawsuit was filed in the U.S. in 1929. The number of lawsuits grew exponentially in the 1970s as the public became aware of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. With this newfound knowledge, people began to question the ethics of asbestos manufacturers. As the evidence being increasingly undeniable, public outrage grew, prompting even more legal actions. Asbestos manufacturers faced thousands of lawsuits, leading to significant financial losses. As a result, many asbestos companies filed for bankruptcy. The litigation landscape changed dramatically, and asbestos lawsuits became a major area of law.

Pioneers in Litigation: Landmark Asbestos Cases in History

There have been numerous seminal asbestos cases in history that paved the way for current and future asbestos litigation. One monumental contribution to this legal landscape came from the Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation case, heard in 1973. It was a groundbreaking case that set a precedent for future litigations. The case served as a landmark trial, as it was one of the first to hold manufacturers liable for injury from asbestos products. Another pivotal case was Johns-Manville Corp., which filed for bankruptcy due to the overwhelming number of asbestos lawsuits. These iconic cases are often cited in modern proceedings and have greatly influenced the way legal entities approach such issues today.

The Modern Era: Recent Developments in Asbestos Case Law

In the modern age, the significant increase of asbestos-related legal cases has led to a significant evolution in case law and to the establishment of specialized courts for handling these issues. Backed by procedural rules tailored to the unique complexities of asbestos cases, these courts represented a new path in the legal field.

Currently, most lawsuits revolve around the issue of secondary exposure to asbestos. This emerging focus on indirect exposures is prompting a revisiting of the laws and causing experts to explore previously unchartered territories. Alongside this, another area of debate is corporate responsibility related to asbestos exposure. The extent to which corporations can be held liable for asbestos usage in their operations is still being defined, and the dynamic legal principles surrounding this issue continue to shape the legal landscape.

Looking Ahead: What the Future Holds for Asbestos Related Cases

The future of asbestos-related cases relies heavily on ongoing litigation, including the consideration of secondary exposure, the functionality of asbestos trusts, and changing regulations, which greatly impact the trajectory of legal proceedings. Secondary exposure has become an important factor in asbestos litigation, as individuals not directly working with asbestos can get exposed via contact with contaminated individuals or surroundings. Asbestos trusts, managing funds for victims, are essential in acquiring justice. In this constantly evolving legal and regulatory landscape, abiding by fluctuating asbestos handling regulations strongly affects legal strategies. As we advance in understanding asbestos and its health implications, making the dangers evident, it positively influences asbestos case law. Robust legal strategies and a sophisticated understanding of asbestos-related health issues are required in the ongoing pursuit of justice for asbestos victims.


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