Top Ten Takeaways from Perrin Conference in L.A.

Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten immediate take-aways from the “Cutting-Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation Conference” organized by the Perrin Conferences company. The Perrin conferences are different from most legal-issues gatherings because they include several points of view, being attended by plaintiff attorneys, civil defense attorneys and even issue-specific judges.
The two-day conference was held March 17 and 18 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California and drew more than 100 attorneys from across the country.
See the list:
10. Lung cancer is a growth area for asbestos litigation. Panelists explained that we should expect from 6,000 to 7,000 new asbestos-related lung cancer cases per year. New York Judge Sherry Klein Heitler, a panelist in the “emerging trends” discussion, said that “… the reality is that we just do not have the money” to deal with the new cases.
9. These lung cases will include smokers, even those with extensive tobacco use histories. One panelist predicted that the expanding case volume and reduced court capacity will likely lead to more consolidation, where multiple cases are handled together.
8. The “Garlock case,” a North Carolina bankruptcy decision, continues to spark discussion. At issue is how courts handle access to bankruptcy trust funds set up to pay asbestos claims. The federal judge in the Garlock case, after weeks of trial, decided that the company’s mesothelioma liability was $125 million, about $1 billion less than the debtors had sought. In effect, the judge said that recent settlements and verdicts did not reflect actual liability, in large part, because evidence of possible other exposures was withheld. As you might expect, opposing sides disagree on the case’s significance. One panelist noted that “ask again in September and we’ll know better what is the impact of Garlock.”
7. Boy, people are sure angry with Resolute Management, the company handling Berkshire Hathaway’s asbestos liability management. Even their fellow insurance companies complain that the organization is hindering case settlements and plaintiffs’ attorneys are equally miffed. Even some judicial comments were aimed at the group. For some background, see this investigative story by the Scripps news group:
6. Asbestos cases are a capacity issue in part because there’s a lot of them, but in part because they are complex. It was pointed out that an asbestos case takes “twice as much” judicial time and 400 percent more staff time than a “garden variety” civil case. In the case of mesothelioma cases, the trials have priority over other types of cases and can push other trials further down the calendar. It is unclear if the lung cancer cases involving asbestos claims will have a similar impact.
5. For asbestos capacity, California judges offered a tale of two cities. Judge Terri Jackson, asbestos department judge in San Francisco Superior Court, explained that changes in case management have created some capacity and asbestos filings in her court are holding fairly even. That was a sharp contrast to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias, who said filings were up, averaging 30 new cases per month. She quipped that “if Judge Jackson has more room, please file in San Francisco.”
4. There will likely be a trend toward challenging asbestos as the virtually singular cause of mesothelioma. In a medical panel presentation, using slides that seemed fairly jury-ready, a panelist outlined the arguments and several attorneys confirmed that increased “cause” focus is likely.
3. One problem with the influx of asbestos-related lung cancer cases is how to value them for purposes of settlement. The “case value” of most asbestos cases has been determined over decades of litigation. That evaluation becomes more challenging, explained some speakers, because some of the newer cases are being filed by relatively newcomers – there was a strong implication that these “new” firms might not have the same screening process to evaluate how good a case might be. The answer, noted a panelist, is to “try a few of those cases.”
2. Some feel federal courts will have an increased role. Peter Langbord, a veteran of asbestos litigation speaking on the “Jurisdictional Updates” panel, said he thinks “… the federal courts are going to change the face of asbestos litigation.” For one thing, others noted, the federal courts use a good electronic filing system.
1. Especially when it comes to issues like the fallout from Garlock or what the increases in lung cancer filings really mean, the advice to “save the date” for the September Perrin Conference seemed one of few issues to gain consensus approval.