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Forecasting the future of asbestos claims

Asbestos-related litigation blossomed in the 1980s and has grown and evolved over the last four decades. Nearly 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy as a result of asbestos litigation, causing plaintiffs' attorneys to focus on solvent, yet peripheral new defendants.iIn the last four decades, over 10,000 different companies have been named in asbestos lawsuits.ii The average number of companies named on a single asbestos complaint in 2015 was 69.iii Although the expiration of asbestos litigation has been predicted many times since it began nearly 40 years ago, there does not appear to be a clear end in sight. Recent filing trends, new plaintiff accessibility, and medical advances (among other factors) seem to indicate that asbestos-related litigation will continue well into the next decade and beyond.

Latency Period and Longer-Living Plaintiffsiv

The long latency period of asbestos illness has been well-documented (40+ years depending on level of exposure). With many plaintiffs having exposures well into the 1980s, it would be expected that claims would continue for at least another ten to fifteen years. However, this estimation could be extended even longer as people continue to live longer and consequently "live into" their disease. A person, who would likely have died of some other cause prior to an asbestos-related disease diagnosis, is now living long enough to discover his/her asbestos-related illness and report a claim.

New Plaintiffsv

While there continue to be plenty of claims filed by "traditional" Plaintiffs (those with direct, occupational exposure), there has also been a steady increase in filings by other Plaintiffs such as those with bystander exposures and secondary (or take home) exposures. Plaintiffs' attorneys will likely continue to target this class of potential filings.

Accessibility to Plaintiffsvi

With society's dramatic increase in connectability through Facebook and other internet and media platforms, Plaintiffs' attorneys are able to cheaply and efficiently educate and recruit new Plaintiffs in much larger numbers than were previously available in earlier decades. Plaintiffs' attorneys can use online connections to seek out new Plaintiffs who would formerly not have associated their disease with asbestos exposure (lung cancer cases, secondary exposures, bystander exposures, etc.).

Madison County Snapshot

Madison County's filing statistics certainly indicate that asbestos-related filings, while seemingly stabilized at the moment, will likely continue for many years to come:

Madison County, IL Asbestos Filings

2000 411 2005 289 2010 752 2015 1,123
2001 889 2006 325 2011 953
2002 809 2007 455 2012 1,563
2003 953 2008 639 2013 1,678
2004 477 2009 814 2014 1,300

Madison County had 25% of the total filings in the nation in 2015 (and 48% of all mesothelioma filings)vii. Of the ten top filing Plaintiff's firms in 2014 and 2015viii, five have local offices in the St. Louis/Madison County area:

Firm Gori, Julian & Associates Simmons, Hanly, Conroy Maune, Raichle, Hartley, French & Mudd LLC SWMK Law, LLC Shrader & Associates LLP
2015 Filings (all venues) 460 367 190 120 107

Endnotes

i Welter, Gelder, Scholz, Stadelman, "Alive and Strong in 2014", For the Defense, April 2014.

ii Id.

iii "Asbestos Litigation: 2015 Year in Review" KCIC Industry Report

iv See Bill Wilt and Alan Zimmermann, A Third Wave in Asbestos Liabilities Lies Ahead: Actuarial Models Are Systematically Underestimating Exposures", LexisNexis Legal Newsroom Litigation, 7, Feb. 19, 2014 available at http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/litigation/b/litigation-blog/archive/2014/02/19/1-third-wave-in-asbestos-liabilities-lies-ahead-acturial-models-are-systematically-underestimating-exposures.aspx. ("Longer lives could be beneficial for insurers, but they also translate into an unexpectedly large pipeline of future claimants- people fortunate enough to survive long enough to live into their asbestos disease.")

v Id. (New research has revealed that even low-dose, non-occupational exposure to asbestos can be hazardous- think familial exposures, air pollution, home renovators, etc. What's more, the people exposed are becoming plaintiffs)

vi Id. (The growing prevalence of social media sites such as Google and YouTube have lowered the cost of prospecting for claimants by lawyers)

vii "Asbestos Litigation: 2015 Year in Review" KCIC Industry Report

viii Id. 

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