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Should asbestos claims be dealt with administratively? (2)

Earlier this week, we started a discussion about the propriety of putting gravely ill plaintiffs through demanding and exhausting depositions in preparation for the possibility that they will not survive until their trial date. In Illinois and most other states, an expedited trial can be ordered if the plaintiff's prognosis justifies it. Unfortunately, even that early date came too late for John Johnson, who passed away from mesothelioma three months prior to his scheduled asbestos lawsuit trial date.

Johnson's story is much like other mesothelioma sufferers. He worked as a carpenter, plumber and auto mechanic for three decades, and was active and healthy until 2010 when he found himself unable to catch his breath during a bicycle ride. He was ultimately diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, and a doctor told him he would most likely not survive until the end of January of this year.

Johnson and his wife filed an asbestos lawsuit against 65 defendant companies that he believed to have manufactured asbestos-containing equipment with which he came in contact during the course of his employment. That list was later cut down to 44, all of whom wanted a chance to question Johnson in a series of depositions set up for December and January.

In California, where the suit was filed, asbestos defendants are allowed to question plaintiffs by deposition for 20 hours. That is much higher than federal law, which allows only seven hours of questioning. To make matters worse, a judge increased that to 25 hours at the request of the defendants.

The effect of the extended questioning took a visible toll on Johnson. At the start of the deposition, he appeared fairly healthy, but as he neared the end he grew frail and had difficulty breathing. About 40 minutes after he answered the last question, he collapsed. The next day, Johnson lost his battle with mesothelioma.

We will post the third part of this series tomorrow.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Mesothelioma victims deserve better than wasteful legal maneuvers," Michael Hiltzik, April 22, 2012

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