Almost two decades after environmental regulators discovered serious asbestos contamination at a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, lawsuits related to asbestos exposure continue to work their way through the courts. A federal judge is set to decide whether a dozen or so cases will remain in Montana state court or be transferred to federal court and decide whether or not a whole host of defendants are liable for the plaintiffs’ serious medical conditions related to asbestos exposure near the mine.
Hundreds of cases against defendants BNSF Railroad Company, the state of Montana and other entities allege the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiffs’ medical conditions, including mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer commonly affecting the lungs. In August, about one dozen other cases were transferred from Cascade County District Court to U.S. District Court for the District of Montana in Great Falls.
The vermiculite mine’s original owner, W.R. Grace & Co., filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2011 and formed an asbestos bankruptcy trust before splitting into two separate companies in 2015. The trust established by W.R. Grace compensates victims who were harmed by the asbestos in the vermiculite mine it operated and allows the company to settle its debts and restructure. According to reports, the trust is valued at $4 billion and could end up compensating thousands of possible claimants harmed by the company’s activities at the mine.
The state of Montana has already settled with another 1,000 clients for a total of $25 million earlier this year. Many of those cases had been pending for well over a decade. Even more claims are still in litigation against the state and BSNF Railroad Company, including those for mesothelioma cancer from asbestos exposure. According to some estimates, as many as 400 victims have succumbed to their asbestos related illnesses, including mesothelioma cancer, caused by the Libby vermiculite mine.
Those lawsuit allege that BSNF and a retired supervisor for the company were aware or should have been aware of the dangers posed by the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in the mine. For decades, residents around the massive site breathed in air contaminated with asbestos fibers from the Libby mine but in many of the suits the defendants continue to deny liability, claiming no knowledge of the dangers posed.
Additionally, many of the lawsuits name Robinson Insulation as a defendant, which once operated in Great Falls, Montana near the site. While the company has since gone under, the victims nonetheless seek to hold all wrongdoers accountable for their involvement in contaminating the air and soil around Libby.
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