When it came to asbestos, corporate behavior was reprehensible. The harm done by asbestos was not confined to the pain and suffering incurred by the victims of asbestos-related disease. Because asbestos was such a huge industry, large corporate manufacturers such as Johns-Manville and W.R. Grace marketed a great deal of the substance, both directly and in products, not only to individuals but to other companies as well. All too often, the management of these companies were as unaware of asbestos dangers as the general public. As a result, many people have not only lost their health and their lives, but their livelihoods as well. The tentacles of asbestos have reached so far and wide that it is now estimated that 80% of all the companies in the U.S. are exposed to some kind of asbestos liability. This includes small, family-run businesses, particularly boat and ship repair companies and auto repair shops.
Any company in which asbestos was present at any time should expect to be named as a defendant in an asbestos action as some point, and take steps now in order to manage any potential liability. Small to medium-sized family-owned companies that believe they may be exposed to asbestos liability should consider the number of potential claimants such as past employees and customers. They also should investigate what types of asbestos were used and in which products. A purchase order and the name of the company that sold or made the product can be helpful in building a defense. And, finally, were safety measures , such as warnings, dust control or protective equipment used? Once these steps have been taken, the owner(s) and accountant should attempt to analyze the numbers and determine the possible liability. As long as the business has taken reasonable steps to protect employees and customers and have not violated the terms of the policy and the declarations provided for such coverage, the insurer will deal with any potential claims. If claims are not covered, or coverage has been exhausted, the small business owner is faced with the choice of fighting a protracted, expensive, legal battle or settlement. Remember, however, that the burden of proof is on the plaintiff–it must be shown that the business was deliberately negligent.