In the insular world of civil litigation, watershed events usually arrive on an installment plan, trickling in at the pace of... well, at the pace of civil litigation. Yet, sometimes disruption arrives quickly, like last week's landmark settlement agreement between a North Carolina gasket maker called Garlock Sealing Technologies and asbestos victims' attorneys.
Every year, hundreds or even thousands of American veterans who thought they survived military service discover that they were wrong; exposure to asbestos was a mortal wound that took decades to surface, evolving into the much-advertised mesothelioma, a terminal cancer.
Multiple defense lawyers have been alleging institutional and operational fraud for years, but lately those charges are gaining some credence. From North Carolina to New York, cases that were initially discredited by victims' attorneys as mere "outliers" are gaining traction.
The new Republican-controlled congress rolled up its sleeves and rolled out its agenda over the last week, and along with immigration and budget issues it turns out "asbestos litigation reform" is an apparent priority.
Don't look now, but the midterm elections are not the only huge November win for the politically conservative Koch brothers, and likely not even their most relevant. The CSX Transportation company, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, also scored a huge civil court victory.
As election results rolled in and Republicans were clearly taking control of the United States Senate, we embattled and map-weary Democrats scanned those results for silver linings. It appears one of those positive outcomes rests on the motivation to create a new "playbook."
The insular and well-heeled world of American asbestos litigation is gathering atop San Francisco's Nob Hill this week for what amounts to an annual current-events snapshot, and this year things may get a bit testy in the industry triangle of plaintiff attorneys, defense firms and insurance companies.
It's one thing to embrace political allies like the trial lawyers, but I'm hoping my fellow Democrats shed light on this gray area. By doing so, and by focusing on protecting victims, we can avoid some of the election-year debris from this particular train wreck.
The well-established Los Angeles attorney clearly meant to counter my argument that we need a civil litigation "clients bill of rights," but he was inadvertently proving my key point: most of us have no idea about the "dark side" of civil justice.
What the judge decided was that plaintiff's lawyers had abused the system, and that instead of the $1.3 billion that victims