The long, sad tale of asbestos insulation, worker injury, and courtroom excess has reached a truly repulsive phase. Recent developments in the case of gasket manufacturer Garlock Sealing Technologies offer a window on the dismaying situation.
First, the backdrop: After decades of industry denial, plaintiffs’ lawyers revealed in the 1980s the now well-known deleterious effects of exposure to building materials containing asbestos. When Congress failed to forge an administrative process that might have fairly and efficiently compensated suffering workers, asbestos litigation ballooned, with the arbitrary results courtroom combat often produces: overcompensation of some victims, underpayment of others, huge legal fees, and endless delays. Dozens of companies were forced into debilitating bankruptcy proceedings even though their continuing operation could have benefited the very sort of blue-collar individuals hurt by asbestos-laden products. And the plaintiffs’ lawyers who marshaled the largest pools of alleged victims enjoyed windfall profits that paid for private jets and luxury vacation homes rather than doctors’ appointments for former pipe fitters.