Asbestos Class Actions
A frequent question from asbestos victims is whether they may have a claim by virtue of the settlement of any class action filed against the asbestos companies. There have been a number of class actions filed against asbestos companies, both as litigation classes and as "settlement class actions." Generally, such actions involving nation-wide "settlement classes" have not been successful. Two recent Supreme Court opinions illustrate the problems federal courts have determined exist in settlement of mass tort cases that involve future injuries:
- Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., No. 97-1704 (1999)
- Amchem Products, Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591 (1997)
Another case illustrative of the analysis given to a trial of an asbestos class action may be found in the opinion of Cimino v. Raymark, Case No. 93-4452 (5th Cir. August 17, 1998), wherein the Firth Circuit reversed a jury verdict in a mass tort asbestos trial after 160 representative plaintiff in a class exceeding 2,000 had their cases fully tried. Click here to read the opinion.
Generally, federal courts have not been receptive to resolving asbestos cases in an aggregate fashion via settlement class actions involving futures. However, asbestos cases have been certified for trial on certain common issues.
The bottom line for all of this to the victims is that because the federal courts have generally refused to handle resolution of the asbestos litigation on a global basis, cases for the most part must be filed individually, and tried individually or in consolidation with other cases. The law on this subject is, however, subject to change. Generally, state courts have been more willing than federal courts to consider innovative processes to work within the rules of procedure to resolve asbestos cases via class actions.