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With Hundreds of Cases Pending, Montana Creates Separate ‘Asbestos’ Court

There are so many pending asbestos cases in Montana’s court system that the Montana Supreme Court has ordered a special claims court to be activated for the hundreds of people who have died from asbestos exposure or contracted asbestos-related disease. The move, reports the Great Falls Tribune, marked “the first time the court has been activated since it was passed in an act by lawmakers in 2001.”

Asbestos exposure is the only cause of a deadly type of cancer known as mesothelioma. The disease occurs when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested and become lodged in the linings of the chest, abdomen or even the heart. When the fibers accumulate, they cause damaging inflammation, which eventually leads to the formation of cancerous tumors. These tumors typically take a long time to develop between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma, often 30 years or more. Because of the long latency period, mesothelioma is often diagnosed in its later stages, making it difficult to treat. There is no cure for the disease.

In the Montana Supreme Court order, “justices cited the need to resolve the claims in a timely fashion, considering the complexity of the cases as well as the "detrimental impact" to the district courts where litigation has been moving through an already overloaded system.”

The cases, some 548 individuals suing entities such as the BNSF Railway, a host of insurance companies, and even the State of Montana, “are now effectively consolidated as they move into the claims court to be managed by one judge,” who will have the power to “make sweeping decisions in managing the litigation, rather than on an individual basis.”

The separate court will be used for pretrial purposes only. “If parties don't reach a settlement and require an individual case to go to trial, that case will then head back to the original court for further proceedings,” reports the Tribune. “If settlements can be reached in a large batch, if not all the cases, then victims with varying levels of severity in their disease will receive a claim based on a scale determined in the claims court.”

District Judge Amy Eddy of Kalispell will “oversee pretrial proceedings and set trial management plans.” All work will be done in Helena from the Supreme Court facilities.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor right away. Though there is no cure for mesothelioma, early detection could lead to better outcomes.

 

Sources

"Asbestos and Cancer Risk." American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc., 2017. Web. 02 Jan. 2018.

Larson, Seaborn. "Montana Asbestos Court Created to Take on Hundreds of Unresolved Cases." Great Falls Tribune. USA Today Network, 28 Nov. 2017. Web. 02 Jan. 2018.