An old, more-sad-than-funny joke runs, “I didn’t get rich by writing a lot of checks.”
My decades of work on behalf of railroad employees who developed disabling and fatal lung diseases after working with and around asbestos have nearly convinced me that rail corporations ranging from Amtrak and CSX to Norfolk Southern have adopted that old saw as a business strategy.
Early in my career as a Virginia personal injury and wrongful death lawyer, I was surprised to discover the lengths corporate lawyers and company executives would go to deny liability for creating and maintaining unsafe workplaces laden with asbestos. These days, I expect to be subjected to a whole grab bag of objections, tricks and obfuscations.
One of the big problems with pursuing asbestos disease cases is that illnesses can develop decades after exposure. Lawyers representing those harmed must rely on subpoenas and the civil justice process to require companies to produce evidence of asbestos use that can be damaging to the employer. Unfortunately, some companies and their high-priced attorneys decide that “breaking bad” is better than playing fair.
Why? Quite simply, because companies and their insurance defense teams file meritless objections, fail to produce evidence and string out court cases for so many years that clients pass away, give up in discouragement or accept settlements far below what their illness merits.
Proof of this comes from a recent ruling in the high-profile and long-running case of Kimberlee Williams, et al. v. BASF Catalysts LLC, et al. In a damning summary of how unethical and downright underhanded the defense for BASF has been, Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School quoted the court and wrote in the Huffington Post:
“BASF and [‘the New York law firm that defended it for years in asbestos cases, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP’] systematically collected and destroyed or hid evidence of asbestos-contaminated products produced by a BASF predecessor, Engelhard, in order to evade liability and forge quick settlements.” …. It was enough evidence to revive a fraud case against BASF and its law firm for “lying about the toxic material, then depriving those injured by it of their day in court.”
My experiences are all-too-common. For every client I and my fellow plaintiffs’ attorneys have secured compensation, several more individuals who developed job-related cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma have suffered and, usually died, without receiving adequate recompense from their former employers.
Asbestos use in new products has been widely banned in the United States since the 1980s, but asbestos insulation was used in dozens, if not hundreds, of items included on diesel engines and on train brake pads. Also, older railroad employees who started working in the 1960s and 1970s rarely had protections such as masks and dust-wetting systems that are now commonplace. Until companies play fairly in the civil justice system, people will continue to suffer unjustly.