In the closing days of Maryland’s legislative session, lawmakers are seriously considering a proposal that would move tens of thousands of pending asbestos cancer lawsuits from state courts and put them into arbitration to clear the backlog. The move is supported by one of the more well-known asbestos cancer lawyers in the state, who has an estimated two-thirds of all such cases currently in litigation in one single court, as well as the Maryland state senate.
According to a report by the Baltimore Sun, the bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Montgomery County Democrat sailed through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on a 10-1 vote two days after its hearing. That same bills then passed the full Maryland state senate by a unanimous vote of 44-0 and will need to pass the state house of representatives before the year’s session expires in just a few days.
There are 30,000 asbestos cancer lawsuits pending in just Baltimore County Circuit Court alone, many of them brought by victims and family members of people who once worked in Sparrows Point steel mill, Baltimore’s shipyards, and other construction and manufacturing businesses. Under the proposal, plaintiffs with asbestos-related cancer would be able to have a new office mediate their cases first and still have the option to go to trial if neither side is satisfied.
Some asbestos cancer lawyers handling claims in Maryland say the current process does not lend itself well to achieving justice in a timely manner for victims, many of whom pass away before ever having their day in court. Currently, plaintiffs must bring documents related to their case to a status conference before a judge who determines if the case is viable before it is scheduled for a trial. Proponents of the bill say it can be as long as a decade before some plaintiffs see the courtroom after initially filing their claims.
While some plaintiffs attorneys and the state senate support the measure, the state’s judiciary vehemently opposes the proposal claiming it “interferes with the inherent ability of the judiciary to control and schedule its dockets.” The state’s judges also take issue with the fact that Maryland’s executive branch would be the one to set various procedures for mediations, including rules on the use of expert witnesses and how to conduct discovery.
Traditionally, plaintiffs file mesothelioma lawsuits in court against the defendants they believe who are responsible for their exposure to cancer-causing asbestos. The mesothelioma lawsuits claim that despite knowing for decades about the risks of asbestos exposure, the defendants continued to market, sell, or utilize products with asbestos.
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