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Compensation for the injured
Though by 1929 workers injured by exposure to asbestos were beginning to receive compensation, all such claims were handled by Workers Compensation and were not brought to public trial. The settlements for these cases rarely exceeded 30-40 thousand dollars even when the plaintiff died as a result of his injuries. It wasn't until 1966 that the first asbestos related case was brought to a court in Beaumont, Texas. The case failed, as did a second case in 1969.
In the 1973 land mark case of Borel v. Fibreboard which was held at the 5th circuit US court of appeals broke new ground by successful in holding six separate companies accountable for failure to warn of the inherent dangers of asbestos. This success set the precedent for future proceedings by bringing the such claims out of the workman's compensation system and into the courts.
Asbestos related litigation was relatively small in the 80s with approximately 300 companies being brought to court. Since then, the number has grown to over 2000 companies which have named as defendants. This dramatic increase is logical considering that asbestos production peaked in 1973 and the latencies for asbestos related diseases can be as long as 40 years.
Since 1982 more than sixty companies have gone bankrupt as a result of lawsuits related to asbestos, and as of 2003 no asbestos was being produced within the United States. This does not mean however that asbestos related cases are decreasing in number, far to the contrary more and more cases are filed every year. It is not uncommon for a single defendant to have many thousands of claims pending.
Recently there has been a rise in asbestos cases stemming from work not usually associated with the asbestos industry. Companies such as General motors are facing an increasing number of claims due to their use of asbestos in their brakes, clutches and other components, and even companies like Sears have been brought to court in relation to products that they sold or serviced.
Until asbestos completely banned on a global level, it is unlikely that this problem will go away. Now, with global trade speeding the flow of products across borders, and with a large percentage of manufacturing being outsourced to third-world countries with little or no safety regulations, it has become increasingly difficult to determine the content of the products which we use on a daily basis. There have been several attempts to achieve such a global ban, but as of yet all attempts have been unsuccessful.