By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
7:01 PM EST, December 17, 2012
An effort to revive more than 13,000 lawsuits filed by people who contend they were sickened by absestos was met with sharp objections Monday by lawyers for potential defendants.
Plaintiffs' attorneys said consolidating some of the lawsuits would help people who have seen their cases languish for years. But defense lawyers told a Baltimore judge that the proposal — which made a fortune for the Law Firm of Peter Angelos previously — was unworkable and unfair.
Opponents criricized the Angelos fim's suggestion for these cases, for people with a range of cancers but not mesothelioma, which has been closely linked to asbestos exposure. Under the plaintiffs' plan, their lawyers would select a small group of cases to show links between asbestos and certain health ailments. Other cases could then be grouped for trial according to their circumstances, with the expectation that would lead to settlements.
"For many of the defendants here, we can't simply settle the cases … on that basis," defense lawyer Dave Allen told John M. Glynn, a retired judge who runs the city Circuit Court's asbestos docket.
The Angelos firm obtained settlements of more than $1 billion in asbestos lawsuits in just 1992. Asbestos, widely used in the previous century in insulation and building materials, has since been linked to cancer and lung disease.
Some defense attorneys criticized the proposal, saying it was outdated and rejected in other states. They said the asbestos cases need to be triaged in a different way. For example, not all defendants are named in each lawsuit and some of the companies named are bankrupt.
However, Theodore M. Flerlage, a member of the Angelos firm, told Glynn that consolidations worked in the 1990s and would work again.
"It's more than doable. It just has to be worked out with the various parties in advance," Flerlage said, adding that the goal is getting the cases resolved.
Thousands of people — or their survivors — have been waiting for either a trial or settlement, he said. The consolidation proposal, he said, would save the court time.
"My clients are elderly. They are infirm," said David Layton, an attorney for others who have sued.
Lawyers for plaintiffs said companies are trying to delay resolving the cases. Suppliers and manufacturers.are among the companies likely affected.
Further tensions arose in the courtroom over why cases haven't been scheduled for open trial dates. The number of open cases was estimated at 13,000 to 19,000.
Glynn did not say when he would rule on the request.
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