One victim of asbestos won a multi-million-dollar verdict.
The court’s ruling feels like a win for many more than just one victim.
Former mine worker Ralph H. received a $36.5 million verdict in his case against Maryland Casualty, the workers compensation insurance company linked to the vermiculite mine in the infamous asbestos town of Libby, Montana. The Montana Standard reported the verdict, which came on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
The massive verdict is a benchmark decision, with more than 800 additional cases against Maryland Casualty all awaiting this precedent-setting resolution.
Town of Libby’s Asbestos History
Ralph’s verdict is the latest chapter in the ongoing asbestos saga tied to Libby mining. The town’s vermiculite mine was a major source of jobs and infrastructure in the town. The mine and plant operated from 1924-1990. Mounds of vermiculite rock and dirt were dumped in waste areas throughout the city – some areas near neighborhoods and schools.
Vermiculite can include asbestos – a dangerous substance linked to cancers and other deadly diseases – and the vermiculite in Libby contained a large amount of asbestos. Libby is considered the epicenter of asbestos-related diseases.
At last count, more than 2,500 people from the city have died of asbestos-related health issues. The number is likely much higher today. Business Insider called it one of the nine deadliest man-made disasters of the last half century.
One of the Libby diseases, asbestosis, is what Ralph developed decades after working in the Libby mine.
Asbestosis Case of Ralph H.
Ralph worked in the W.R. Grace mine for 1-2 years, which was enough for him to develop asbestosis. This disease, defined by lung tissue scarring and inflammation, is the result of loose and sharp asbestos fibers getting stuck in the lung cavity.
Miners often swallowed or inhaled floating, weightless asbestos fibers without knowing of the danger – because W.R. Grace, Maryland Casualty and other companies with workers exposed to asbestos didn’t warn their employees or provide protective equipment.
Ralph said his supervisor told him not to worry “about the dust” because “it’s just like household dust.” Masks got covered in dust too quickly and were deemed too ineffective to use for work. So the miners were left defenseless – both without equipment or educated and informed supervisors to protect them.
The court ruled Maryland Casualty – like many other companies involved in asbestos manufacturing and production, including W.R. Grace, which is now bankrupt – didn’t do enough to protect workers. Many companies knew asbestos was present in the setting, and some even knew the substance was harmful. Others didn’t look into the effects of asbestos as much as they should have.
Verdict Favoring Asbestosis Victim
Ralph received $6.5 million in damages related to his case – his impaired health, medical bills, loss in quality of life and more. The jury in Great Falls, Montana, hit Maryland Casualty, the insurer of W.R. Grace, with an additional $30 million in punitive damages, a punishment intended to serve as an example for other companies.
The state of Montana set up a separate asbestos court to field all cases linked to exposure and disease. A judge overseeing this special asbestos claims court chose Ralph’s case as the baseline to set legal precedent, most notably whether Maryland Casualty is at fault for the miners’ lack of protection from asbestos.
More cases against Maryland Casualty may go to trial – with an edge favoring the victims filing the claims. Maryland Casualty may choose to settle the large majority of the 800-plus claims against the company.
Either way, the case of Ralph H. is hopefully the first domino of many.
Sources & Author
- Jury awards $36.5 million verdict against insurance company in bellwether Libby asbestos case. Montana Standard. Retrieved from: . https://mtstandard.com/news/local/jury-awards-36-5-million-verdict-against-insurance-company-in-bellwether-libby-asbestos-case/article_1d8c8e95-118a-5ad9-be79-843fd2d7ef27.html. Accessed: 02/23/2022.
Sources & Author