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Should asbestos claims be dealt with administratively? (3)

This week, we have told the story of John Johnson, a man who died of mesothelioma the day after he completed more than 25 hours of deposition questioning from the defense attorneys in his asbestos lawsuit. Now, the sad end of Johnson's life has called into question the process of asbestos litigation in the United States.

What makes Johnson's deposition process even more frustrating for his family is that it was largely unnecessary. There is really no proof issue in mesothelioma cases - the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos because of the defendant's negligence in creating products or structures with asbestos in them. This, in turn, caused the plaintiff's mesothelioma and eventual death.

But the purpose of the deposition procedure is to determine which of the often-many defendants is the most at fault for the exposure - specifically, which deserves to be stuck with the bill for the plaintiff's pain, suffering, medical expenses and death. It is unnecessary and unjust to further injure the plaintiff in order to resolve this issue.

Many have questioned whether asbestos suits should be dealt with administratively rather than through the courts. Similar products that have caused mass harm, such as coal mining dust and Agent Orange in Vietnam, have resulted in government-run reparation programs, with a dual goal of compensating injured victims while protecting companies from financial ruin from multiple settlements and damage awards. And because the number of new asbestos plaintiffs will likely taper off in the next few decades, it should become increasingly easy to administer such a program.

However, previous attempts to craft an overall settlement for present and future claims have failed, and it seems that, for at least the time being, asbestos litigation will continue in the same manner. This is unfortunate for all present and future John Johnsons in the U.S.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Mesothelioma victims deserve better than wasteful legal maneuvers," Michael Hiltzik, April 22, 2012

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