Document Type

Article

Abstract

In twenty years of asbestos litigation, procedural reforms at all levels of the civil litigation system have failed to reduce plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. The result has been dramatic undercompensation of asbestos tort victims. This paper attempts to explain this remarkable fact using economic methodology. The paper offers three theories: First, that the continuing difficulty of assessing causation in asbestos and other mass tort cases predictably impedes the efforts of procedural reform to reduce costs; second, that changes in defendant and insurer risk attitudes have generated costly litigation; third, that collusion of plaintiffs’ attorneys to maintain prices cannot be ruled out. Each of these theories has some empirical support. Further, regardless of which turns out to be correct, the continuing high costs of civil litigation mean that resolution through the bankruptcy system will predictably harm future claimants, an unfair outcome. In the final assessment, civil procedure reform, the favored mechanism for resolving the asbestos case backlog, cannot achieve its objectives. Rather, reform must take into account substantive law and the motives and incentives of actors in the legal system. Holistic analysis of this type lends support to a comprehensive administrative remedies scheme, which has the best chance of decreasing the costs of compensation.

Date of Authorship for this Version

May 2006