Montana Adds More Judges to Hear Libby Asbestos Cases

Last year, Montana established an asbestos claims court specifically to hear cases that stem mostly from the Libby disaster involving W. R. Grace and Company and their asbestos-tainted vermiculite mine. Now, still overburdened by suits brought against Grace and others, the Montana Supreme Court has added six more judges to the claims court.

Montana Adds More Judges to Hear Libby Asbestos CasesThough it’s been two decades since news of this asbestos disaster – one of the worst environmental disasters in the country – came to light, Libby residents and those close to them are still affected each and every day, mostly because hundreds of them have developed asbestos-related diseases.

Experts suggest that the backlog of cases from those harmed by the vermiculite in Grace’s mine may take a few more decades to be tried.

That’s not good news for many who have already had cases pending for more than 15 years, reports Montana Public Radio, but there is hope that the most recent appointment will help ease the burden of judges who already seem to be hearing cases all day, every day.

“Many [cases] have been tied up because of federal bankruptcy filings by W.R. Grace, the company that mined asbestos in Libby, which prevented the cases from proceeding in state court,” MTPR reported.

“Now that the federal proceedings have ended, Montana’s asbestos claims court has identified more than 2,200 pending cases alleging asbestos exposure against more than 40 individual defendants. The supreme court’s appointment of six more judges this month is a relief to attorneys and claimants in the thick of the battle.”

Montana formed the claims court not only to assist claimants/plaintiffs but also defendants whose own attorneys are consistently tied up in court.

The number of cases is a burden on everyone, MTPR points out, and frustrating for anyone involved on either side of the fence. District Judge Amy Eddy in Flathead County, Montana was the first appointed to the special asbestos claims court, and she says adding six more judges “only scratches the surface of the demand for legal resolutions.”

“Well, frankly it’s not nearly enough,” Eddy says. “We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of cases to try across primarily northwest Montana.”

“The Asbestos Claims Court is handling some of the most long-standing and complicated toxic exposure cases that the judiciary has handled in Montana,” Eddy explains. “I’m unaware of any other litigation with this scope of complexity and history in the state courts.”

Because so many Montana residents have died or been sicken by asbestos exposure, the state reports that they expect as many as 200 additional cases each year for at least the next decade or so, which means the state Supreme Court may likely need to consider appointing even more judges to join the seven already in place, all of which are voluntarily taking on the job of “asbestos judge” without further compensation above and beyond their regular salaries.