Asbestos litigation is the longest running mass tort in U. S. history. Within the past few years, there have been sharp increases in the number of asbestos claims filed annually, the number and types of firms named as defendants, and the costs of the litigation to these defendants. These trends have led many people to question whether compensation is being divided among claimants fairly and in proportion to need, and whether responsibility for paying compensation is being allocated among defendants fairly and in proportion to culpability. Moreover, the system is costly to administer, may impose indirect costs on the economy, and may leave little or no funds to pay future asbestos victims.
This study is a comprehensive look at the dimensions of asbestos litigation today: How many claims have been filed? By whom? Against whom? For what kinds of conditions? At what cost? With what economic effects? If current trends continue, what will be the future costs of the litigation? The analysis is intended to provide the best estimates available of present and future consequences of the litigation so that policymakers can address the key question: whether the tort system as it now operates is the best way to resolve asbestos claims.
One of the reasons for such a study is that information on asbestos litigation is highly dispersed and usually confidential. There is no national registry of asbestos claimants. Federal courts collect data on asbestos cases, but most claims are filed in state courts, which do not report such information. Most of the data is gathered by individual defendants and insurers with a stake in the litigation. RAND researchers gained access to a good deal of this data, as well as some proprietary studies, from participants on both sides of the litigation—access that was granted under conditions of utmost confidentiality. The study team also drew upon RAND's previous research on asbestos, other analyses that are publicly available, and extensive interviews with dozens of participants with different perspectives on the litigation. The researchers have synthesized all these sources, acknowledging that they are providing only best estimates because the data are still far from complete. This briefing presents interim research findings.