Insurers Request Halt On Asbestos Action

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By Steven Brostoff

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NU Online News Service, Sept. 3, 4:10 p.m. EST,Washington?A coalition of insurance companies is askingthe United States Supreme Court to bar state courts employingasbestos litigation procedures which, the coalition contends,contribute to the asbestos crisis now confronting the nation.

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The group, called the Coalition for Asbestos Justice, has fileda petition with the high court asking it to review a West VirginiaSupreme Court decision which joined thousands of unrelated asbestoscases into a single mass action.

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"In such proceedings, as here, people with serious illnessessuch as mesothelioma and lung cancer are lumped together with theunimpaired," the Washington-based Coalition said in its brief.

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"The goal is to produce settlements with low transaction costs,even if it means trampling over the due process rights ofdefendants and the truly sick," the brief added.

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"Efficiency is promoted over fairness and reason," the briefsaid.

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In the case of Mobil Corp. and Honeywell International v.Adkins, a trial court judge in West Virginia grouped severalthousand asbestos personal injury claims into a single actionciting a West Virginia Trial Court Rule as authority.

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Mobil and the other defendants asked the West Virginia SupremeCourt to vacate the trial court's decision. They charged that theclaims are unrelated and that consolidating them would deny thedefendants their rights to due process and equal protection.

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Mobil added that the trial court's decision was "arbitrary andcapricious."

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The West Virginia Supreme Court, however, upheld the trialcourt. Noting the mass of cases currently pending before thenation's courts, the West Virginia Supreme Court said that managingthese cases cannot be accomplished unless the trial court isallowed significant flexibility and leeway.

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It would have been better, the court said, if Congress hadauthorized the development of a compensation system for asbestosclaims such as that for workers' compensation.

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"Due to the lack of any such alternate recovery mechanism,however, the state and federal judiciaries throughout this countryhave been forced, by default, to accept the ?managerial nightmare'of dealing with, or being inundated by, an inestimable andseemingly endless number of asbestos cases," the court said.

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But in its brief, the coalition said that this procedure, theobvious goal of which is to try to force a mass settlement, willonly make matters worse.

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It will encourage more filings by the unimpaired, the coalitionsaid, jeopardize recoveries to the truly sick, result in additionalbankruptcies, and lead to greater pressure on other defendants.

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The United States Supreme Court, the coalition said, should senda clear signal to state courts that fairness and rationality mustbe restored to asbestos litigation.

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Members of the Coalition for Asbestos Justice are ACE-USA,Chubb, CNA, Fireman's Fund, Hartford, Argonaut, General Cologne Re,Liberty Mutual, St. Paul and Great American.

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