National Trends Driving Asbestos Litigation in 2013-2014 (1 of 3): Decrease in Non-Impairment Filings

First in a series. Subsequent posts will cover lung cancer filings and “target” defendants.

Generally, as a result of judicial and legislative reforms, plaintiffs’ lawyers have moved away from mass screenings and filing of claims on behalf of unimpaired or non-malignancy plaintiffs in asbestos litigation. Rather, many of these unimpaired cases are being moved through the less rigorously reviewed channels of asbestos bankruptcy trusts that provide relatively little oversight and have more than $36.8 billion in assets available.

Recently, following publicity of bankruptcy trust abuses, there is a move toward tightening those procedures and requiring disclosures of the bankruptcy claims to ensure consistency with the parallel cases pending in tort actions. Still, the number of non-malignancy filings in the tort system continues to decrease.

As most of the active cases consist of more “expensive” malignancies, it is not surprising that according to a recent report from NERA Economic Consulting, 2011 saw a 75 percent increase in average dollars per resolved claims from 2010. In comparison, the rate of increase from 2009 to 2010 was only 31 percent. NERA found that despite the 75 percent increase in payment per resolved claims, there was no similar dramatic increase in claim filings. In fact, filings have stabilized over the past five years, with approximately 52,000 new cases filed yearly. Though additional data has not yet been made available for subsequent years, it is generally acknowledged that this trend appears to be continuing.

As the backlog of non-malignancy claims clear throughout the country, increases in amounts paid on claims are expected to level out over the next two or three years. However, the total amount paid to resolve future claims is expected to increase as the number of lung cancer and mesothelioma cases continue to rise.

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