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Supreme Court allows asbestos lawsuit to proceed

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that asbestos lawsuits against Pfizer can go forward. Although Pfizer itself did not directly make asbestos, one of its subsidiaries did -- Quigley Co., a bankrupt arm of Pfizer that ceased operations in 1992. Quigley manufactured asbestos-containing products for the steel industry between the 1940s and 1970s. In 1968, Pfizer acquired Quigley.

In 1999, Pfizer was sued by a Maryland plaintiff in Pennsylvania state court. The lawsuit alleged that Pfizer was responsible for some of the asbestos claims because its logo appeared on many of the Quigley products. Pfizer claimed that it had no part in the manufacture or sale of the products and argued that they should be dismissed from the lawsuit.

Eventually, the case reached a federal appeals court in New York, which ruled that the lawsuit against Pfizer could go forward, despite Pfizer's arguments that Quigley's bankruptcy proceedings protected Pfizer from lawsuits filed against its subsidiary. This ruling was affirmed on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This ruling is good news for those suffering from health problems caused by asbestos. Asbestos was once widely used in many industries such as the steel, automotive, shipbuilding, military and other manufacturing industries. Once highly regarded as an insulator, it was later discovered that asbestos fibers could embed themselves in the lungs or clothing of those who worked around it, causing mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma occurs when asbestos fibers reach the lungs, causing inflammation and abnormal cell growth (e.g. cancer). Within 20 to 40 years after exposure, the cancer worsens and causes the lungs to fill with fluid. It can also spread to other areas of the body. About 80 percent of patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma die within two years.

Source: Bloomberg, "Pfizer Loses Top Court Bid for Shield From Asbestos Suits," Greg Stohr, June 24, 2013

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