Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Asbestos and the Future of Mass Torts

Contents:

Author Info

  • Michelle J. White
Registered author(s):

    Abstract

    Asbestos was once referred to as a miracle mineral' for its ability to withstand heat and it was used in thousands of products. But exposure to asbestos causes cancer and other diseases. As of the beginning of 2001, 600,000 individuals had filed lawsuits for asbestos-related diseases against more than 6,000 defendants. 85 firms have filed for bankruptcy due to asbestos liabilities and several insurers have failed or are in financial distress. More than $54 billion has been spent on the litigation higher than any other mass tort. Estimates of the eventual cost of asbestos litigation range from $200 to $265 billion. The paper examines the history of asbestos regulation and asbestos liability and argues that it was liability rather than regulation that eventually caused producers to eliminate asbestos from most products by the late 1970s. But despite the disappearance of asbestos products from the marketplace, asbestos litigation continued to grow. Plaintiffs' lawyers used forum-shopping to select the most favorable state courts techniques for mass processing of claims, and substituted new defendants when old ones went bankrupt. Because representing asbestos victims was extremely profitable, lawyers had an incentive to seek out large numbers of additional plaintiffs, including many claimants who were not harmed by asbestos exposure. The paper contrasts asbestos litigation to other mass torts involving personal injury and concludes that asbestos was unique in a number of ways, so that future mass torts are unlikely to be as big. However new legal innovations developed for asbestos are likely to make future mass torts larger and more expensive. I explore two mechanisms-- bankruptcies and class action settlements--that the legal system has developed to resolve mass torts and show that neither has worked for asbestos litigation. The first, bankruptcy by individual asbestos defendants, exacerbates the litigation by spreading it to non-bankrupt defendants. The second, a class action settlement, is impractical for asbestos litigation because of the large number of defendants. As a result, Congressional legislation is needed and the paper discusses the compensation fund approach that Congress is currently considering.

    Download Info

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w10308.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10308.

    as in new window
    Length:
    Date of creation: Feb 2004
    Date of revision:
    Publication status: published as White, Michelle J. "Asbestos and the Future of Mass Torts." Journal of Economic Perspectives 18, 2 (Spring 2004): 183-204.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10308

    Note: LE
    Contact details of provider:
    Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Email:
    Web page: http://www.nber.org
    More information through EDIRC

    Related research

    Keywords:

    Find related papers by JEL classification:

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    References

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
    as in new window
    1. Steven Shavell, 2003. "Economic Analysis of Accident Law," NBER Working Papers 9483, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. White, Michelle J, 1989. "The Corporate Bankruptcy Decision," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 129-51, Spring.
    3. Michelle J. White, 2002. "Explaining the Flood of Asbestos Litigation: Consolidation, Bifurcation, and Bouquet Trials," NBER Working Papers 9362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as in new window

    Cited by:
    1. Ramello, Giovanni B., 2012. "Aggregate Litigation and Regulatory Innovation: Another View of Judicial Efficiency," IEL Working Papers 8, Institute of Public Policy and Public Choice - POLIS.
    2. Landeo, Claudia M., 2009. "Cognitive coherence and tort reform," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 898-912, December.
    3. Landeo, Claudia, 2009. "Tort Reform, Disputes and Belief Formation," Working Papers 2009-12, University of Alberta, Department of Economics.
    4. Eric Helland & Jonathan Klick & Alexander Tabarrok, 2005. "Data Watch: Tort-uring the Data," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 207-220, Spring.
    5. Taillard, Jérôme P., 2013. "The disciplinary effects of non-debt liabilities: Evidence from asbestos litigation," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 267-293.
    6. Paul Rubin, 2005. "Public choice and tort reform," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 223-236, July.

    Lists

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10308. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.