In the long history of asbestos companies’ greed leading to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, what happened in Libby, Montana stands apart. The town is where the W.R. Grace Company operated a vermiculite mine that sickened thousands and killed hundreds. After years of pursuing compensation from the company, which declared bankruptcy, victims turned to its insurer, Maryland Casualty Company. Last week a Montana jury ordered the company to pay a former mine worker $36.5 million in damages.
Lawsuit Was Bellwether for 800 Other Libby Mesothelioma and Asbestos Cases
Over 800 mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease victims have filed suit against Maryland Casualty, so Judge Amy Eddy of the special asbestos court created to handle them chose bellwether cases to test jury decisions and establish a factual foundation from which the other cases could be heard. The first of these was an asbestosis lawsuit filed by former miner Ralph Hutt.
Unlike mesothelioma, asbestosis is not considered a fatal disease, but it is irreversible and has a significant impact on quality of life and its victims’ abilities. Though Mr. Hutt only worked at the mine for a year-and-a-half, his exposure to the toxic dust was enough to leave him debilitated and permanently dependent on an oxygen tank. The jury hearing his case awarded him $6.5 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages.
Insurer’s Role in Libby’s Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Catastrophe
Though the blame for Libby residents’ mesothelioma and asbestosis catastrophe rests largely with W.R. Grace Company, their insurer’s role is indisputable. The jury heard details of their knowledge of the dangers posed by the mine, as well as of their lack of action to protect workers and residents. They were told that the state of Montana had inspected the mine in 1956 and deemed it toxic but had only shared that information with the mine’s management.
After receipt of that report, W.R. Grace required that its miners be X-rayed to gauge their asbestos exposure. A 37-page safety guide was crafted by Maryland Casualty that never mentioned the word asbestos or warned of the risk of mesothelioma, asbestosis, or any other asbestos-related disease. The jury also heard evidence that the insurer’s attorney had encouraged W.R. Grace to settle any claims that arose so that they could prevent “the more damaging aspects of our situation” from becoming known.
Though the bellwether case’s outcome is no guarantee that mesothelioma victims whose cases have yet to be heard will receive similar damages, it does suggest that the company may be more likely to be generous in future settlement conversations.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help you in your quest for justice. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608.FREE Mesothelioma Packet