14th Annual National Asbestos Litigation Conference To Focus On “Changing of the Guard”

Although asbestos litigation has been around for four decades, it is going through another transition.  While the long-standing multi-district litigation (MDL) is coming to a close, new claims are hitting the dockets and newer tech-savvy attorneys are joining their more experienced counterparts.  This “changing of the guard” of the litigation will be at the heart of the 14th Annual National Asbestos Litigation Conference—sponsored by HB Litigation Conferences—on Oct. 3-4 in Amelia Island, Fla., says co-chairman Gary Galiher of Galiher DeRobertis Ono.

“This conference will be different than past asbestos conferences where attorneys would just come to stay abreast of what’s going on. I think this year’s conference is going to have a little of a more far-reaching effect,” said Galiher

Big Changes

“The litigation is changing very dynamically and at a very, very fast pace,” said Galiher.

One major change is Judge Eduardo C. Robreno’s goal to wrap up the Asbestos MDL in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“It was just a cesspool of lost cases and for decades it was a tragedy.  And he’s come to the rescue of that,” said Galiher.  As a result many asbestos cases that had been in the MDL system for years are now finally returning to their home jurisdictions for trial.   Galiher said, however, that a number of Judge Robreno’s recent rulings will be the subject of debate at the appellate level.

Another major change has been the shift in focus from traditional asbestos exposure cases, to cases involving exposures to asbestos in electrical products and automotive parts, both of which will be discussed at length during the conference.

A New Focus

“[The litigation] is getting a lot more focused and refined.  It’s a very, very mature, seasoned litigation.  I think we’ve moved past the bulk filings of cases that are of questionable nature.  The fact that the mesothelioma cases are so focused—both by the plaintiffs and the defendants—is a real value to the litigation and the dramatic nature of the claims on an individual basis,” said Galiher.

“When juries are presented with such a focused case, they’re very taken with responsibility — and the verdicts reflect that.  But on the other hand, the defense is very skilled and the technologies and the new issues keep evolving.  There’s so much at risk on both sides that all the brainpower focused on the litigation makes it extremely important to stay abreast of the current developments,” said Galiher.

“There are a lot of new ideas and technologies available that somebody like me who is a dinosaur in the litigation is not adept at, but that will make us more formidable as we pull it all together.  It’s actually quite exciting,” said Galiher, who has 33 years of experience in asbestos litigation.  This seasoned veteran filed the first mesothelioma case involving a Pearl Harbor shipyard worker in 1978.

1,000 Plus Years Of Experience

While he expects to benefit from sessions on new technologies for visualization and cross-examination, Galiher expects young attorneys to benefit from the large amount of experience on the faculty.

“I bet if you combined the faculty’s experience, you would find 1,000-plus years of actual litigation experience at this conference.  They’ll be sharing what they think are the most important issues that come to bear on the changing of the guard,” said Galiher.

W.G. Watkins, Jr. of Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy LLP, who is co-chairing the event with Galiher, said that he thinks the conference will be unique in its mixture of presentations by both experienced and younger attorneys.

Watkins said that he is especially looking forward to the second scheduled presentation entitled “Changing of the Guard” which will feature Philip McWeeny of Schiff Hardin LLP and Robert Hatten of Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein.

“[McWeeny and Hatten] both have so much experience and are very talented, dynamic speakers who mix in a lot of humor with the real-world ‘how-to’ advice they dispense,” said Watkins.

Watkins said that one of the most important trends in asbestos litigation that will be discussed at the conference is the focus on individual cases.

“There has been a weeding out of the cases involving people who are not sick.  Not all of these cases have been eliminated, but there are much fewer of them.  Additionally in the ‘real’ cases, the question of exposure and what constitutes an exposure above background level will be hotly debated as we go forward,” said Watkins.

More to Come

Both Watkins and Galiher agree that, although it has been around for a while, asbestos litigation shows no signs of going away.

“Given the magnitude of loss at issue in these cases, this litigation is going to go on for a long time—at least for the rest of my career and the careers of the lawyers in my office.  In what forum it takes place or how it actually gets worked out—or more importantly, how the cases can get resolved in an expeditious fashion—is the real issue going forward,” Galiher said.

Watkins agreed. “The money being received by claimants in the bankruptcies has to be accounted for in the tort system.  This is going to be a hotly contested issue in the years to come,” he said.

Click here to register for the National Asbestos conference – October 3-4, 2011.