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Asbestos in Springfield, Missoula and Washington

The Illinois Supreme Court today reversed its 1987 Lipke rule that prohibited defendants in asbestos cases from introducing evidence about other exposures the plaintiffs may have experienced. The Madison County Record (Ill.) has the details about the 5-1 opinion in the case, Nolan v. Weil-McLain, in "Illinois Supreme Court strikes long-time asbestos evidence ruling." (The opinion is here as a .pdf file).

The original plaintiff was a plumber-pipefitter who worked many years in jobs exposing him to amphibole asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma, but only 20-25 times in 38 years to chrysotile asbestos, which studies show do not cause mesothelioma. But the defendant company was not allowed to introduce evidence of the plaintiff's exposure to amphibole asbestos.

Ed Murnane of the Illinois Civil Justice League remarks: "By striking down the arbitrary provisions of Lipke - the ruling that made it impossible for Illinois judges to grant a fair trial to defendants - the Supreme Court is improving the legal environment in Illinois and, finally, allowing defendants to actually present their side of the case at trial." The ICJL and my employers at the National Association of Manufacturers joined other business and legal-reform groups in filing an amicus brief, which you can access at the NAM's Legal Beagle here. And there's more background from the Record in this story.

Out in Missoula, meanwhile, the criminal trial continues in U.S. District Court of former W.R. Grace executives accused of covering out the health consequences of asbestos exposure from vermiculite mining in Libby, Montana. Strange how little national attention this CRIMINAL case for obstruction and violation of the Clean Air Act is receiving.

This week saw some significant developments as the defense accused prosecutors of presenting misleading testimony and withholding evidence from the defense. (See the American Law Litigation Daily, "Defense Cries Foul at Long-Running W.R. Grace Criminal Trial in Montana.") Bet we see more of these claims thanks to the vacating of Sen. Steven's conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct.

The U.S. District Court has made the case documents available at a special website accessible here. (Thank you!) University Montana journalism and law students have been filing regular reports at a UM blog, "Grace Case. (Story on the blog project at the Times of Trenton (N.J.). Otherwise, for the latest updates, search here.

Wasn't it just a few years ago that Congress was deep into crafting a grand, legislative asbestos settlement? Yes, the bill stalled out, but given the impact of asbestos litigation on the economy and jobs, Congress must still working on legislation, right?

Ah, no. Here's the only piece of legislation in the 111th Congress that mentions asbestos, S.Res. 57: "A resolution designating the first week of April 2009 as "National Asbestos Awareness Week".

Approved by unanimous consent.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.