Libby, Montana, is synonymous with asbestos exposure. Over the years, thousands of residents have been exposed to extreme levels of asbestos through the natural vermiculite mines in the town, resulting in thousands of pending claims against the company in charge, W.R. Grace.
Montana’s Supreme Court has appointed 6 additional judges to handle Libby asbestos cases to speed up the trials process to get victims their compensation sooner.
Libby’s Tragic Past
Libby’s vermiculite mine was opened in 1963 and closed in 1990 after its asbestos content caused an unprecedented amount of illnesses. Mine workers were severely affected, but so were family members and townspeople who lived close by to the natural asbestos deposit.
Libby was declared an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in 2001 and is one of the largest clean-ups in US history. The disaster has resulted in toxic exposure of workers and townspeople, as well as criminal charges against the mine’s executives at W. R. Grace and Co. The type of asbestos mined in Libby’s infamous mine was dart-shaped tremolite fibers that can easily pierce the pleural lining of the lungs.
As of 2018, Libby’s population stood at 2,628. According to the Supreme Court, there are currently 2,229 victims of asbestos exposure in Libby—84% of the town’s total population. It’s estimated that 200 new cases occur each year, so this figure could potentially grow yet.
Of these cases of exposure, 1,394 have not yet been diagnosed with mesothelioma, but they believe that they have been around the substance without their knowledge and, therefore, expect to be diagnosed in the future. These cases are handled separately and kept on a list until the claimant develops symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.
The mine in Libby has long since closed, yet residents continue to suffer from the effects of asbestos. Around 400 residents have died in the last decade as a direct result of asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. Those who are currently diagnosed face the sobering realization that there is presently no cure for mesothelioma.
Additional Judges Will Help Move Through Libby Claims Quicker
The appointment of additional judges will come as great news for residents as it will enable the courts to move through the list of Libby asbestos cases quicker. Before these new appointments, the high court’s decision fell on a single judge. The pending Libby asbestos cases will be shared among the new judges, who will review the facts and decide upon a settlement or trial.
These new judges will solely work on asbestos-exposure cases as part of the Montana Asbestos Court, which was passed into law in 2001 as a means of preparing for the large quantity of Libby asbestos cases that would arise.
The appointed judges are:
- Judge Matthew Cuffe, 19th Judicial District, Libby
- Judge Michael McMahon, 1st Judicial District, Helena
- Judge Jon Oldenburg, 10th Judicial District, Lewistown
- Judge John Parker, 8th Judicial District, Great Falls
- Judge Gregory Pinski, 8th Judicial District, Great Falls
- Judge Dan Wilson, 11th Judicial District, Kalispell
The new judges will join the Asbestos Claims Court, which was implemented in November 2017 to help with the influx of mesothelioma cases. The Honorable Amy Eddy, 11th Judicial District in Kalispell, was appointed as the judge for the 545 plaintiffs identified at that time, though she says that an additional 6 judges are not enough to handle the current volume of cases.
The Supreme Court announced that the additional judges would help to meet the demands of the litigation. They will not only help to quicken the legal process for mesothelioma victims, but it will also provide solace for their families.
Many mesothelioma victims file claims after diagnosis, but many don’t survive to see their case complete. If successful, their families receive compensation through wrongful death claims. However, this does not provide the necessary peace for the mesothelioma victim themselves. Pushing more claims through while the victim is alive will give a greater sense of justice.