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There are many legal cases that occur in the United States involving asbestos

4/15/11

There are many legal cases that occur in the United States involving asbestos

(Courtesy Photo)

There are many legal cases that occur in the United States involving asbestos. So far, a long and emotional legal battle that has involved more than 1,125 Libby, Montana residents since 2004 seems to be coming to an end with a possible settlement of $43 million. The agreement, which originally was extended in November 2009, was delayed by three individuals who were not satisfied with the terms. In October 2010, the state and insurance company signed off on the final stages of negotiation, and the suit is pending approval by the court for final review.

In its heyday, WR Grace & Co. Libby mine produced about 80 percent of the supply of vermiculite in the world, however, deposits of vermiculite were tied with deadly tremolite asbestos. The mine opened in 1923 and closed in 1990. During and after this time, hundreds of area residents died from malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis, and many others continue to fight these diseases.

In Libby, asbestos literally filled the air. Mine employees were not the only ones exposed to toxic asbestos. Families of workers inhaled fibers that miners inadvertently brought home on their work clothes. It was also found in schools, parks and baseball fields where companies deposited mine waste.

Since 2004, lawyers have been fighting on behalf of these people, claiming that most asbestos-related diseases could have been avoided if WR Grace & Co. had taken adequate steps to protect their workers. Seven executives of the bankrupt company were accused of concealing knowledge of the dangers of asbestos, including an article detailing the definite relationship between their product and mesothelioma.

The State Board of Health inspectors who visited the mine were aware of unsafe working conditions, however, felt that they had no obligation to disclose warnings. The Montana Supreme Court found that officials chose not to regulate the workplace.

Most of the claimants are at least 65 years of age and after years in the legal system simply would like to see the dispute ended. As late as June 2010, terms were still being updated. The increase in applicants from 807 to 1125 necessitated a revision of liquidation values.

A final distribution indicates that the plaintiffs will receive payments of between $ 21,500 and $ 60,700, depending on their diagnoses. The fees of lawyers will absorb a third of the amount, and $ 500,000 from the settlement will be set aside in a contingency fund to meet any future claims.

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