Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Asbestos trial format blasted

Defendants ask Supreme Court to halt looming trial

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court was asked Monday to block a massive asbestos trial in West Virginia.

        The emergency request was filed with Chief Justice William Rehnquist exactly two weeks before 250 companies are to go to trial.

        Companies are contesting the consolidated trial format: about 8,000 people who claim they were exposed to asbestos versus groups of employers, building owners and manufacturers.

        Two companies had asked the Supreme Court this summer to consider whether the trial would be unconstitutional. In the stay request, Justice Rehnquist was told the issue cannot wait until early October, when the court's term begins.

        Corporations, fearing costly jury verdicts, could be forced to settle out of court, attorney Walter Dellinger said in the filing for Mobil Corp. and Honeywell International.

        “If this patently unconstitutional trial plan succeeds in coercing mass settlements of meritless claims, then the result will be more meritless claims and more unconstitutional trial plans,” Mr. Dellinger wrote.

        Companies are dealing with growing numbers of lawsuits involving asbestos, a cancer-causing fibrous mineral once commonly used in insulation and fireproofing material. Nationwide, there are 200,000 pending asbestos claims.

        The West Virginia Supreme Court has endorsed trial consolidations to resolve large numbers of asbestos suits in that state.

        The case is Mobil Corp. v. Adkins.


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