The Asbestos Practice Group at Williams Kastner continues its decades-old tradition of providing cutting-edge legal services responsive to the ever-changing nature of this complex and challenging litigation. Staffed with experienced and well-trained attorneys, paralegals and litigation assistants who have an in-depth knowledge of the key issues, experts and dynamics, our practice group has distinguished itself before the asbestos bench and bar. Most importantly, our attorneys have distinguished themselves with our many long-term clients.
While many firms defending this litigation appear defeated and limit themselves to traditional defenses based on the lack of product identification or contesting the diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease, our attorneys stand tall in developing and advocating innovative defenses using a winning attitude, technology and a strong grasp of asbestos science and medicine to most effectively position our clients to achieve dismissals, favorable settlements or, if necessary, jury verdicts. The firm has many different asbestos litigation clients who are cost-effectively represented through joint representation agreements that preserve client confidences while providing the opportunity to split common legal fees and expenses among multiple clients. This allows our clients to receive the benefits of our experienced representation at a fraction of our standard hourly rates.
While the products and issues surrounding our clients may vary, our approach and dedication to their defense does not. Using effective deposition-taking, our attorneys develop key exposure facts for each plaintiff that allow the experienced industrial hygienists with whom we work to develop reliable estimates of cumulative exposure both to our clients’ products and to other products. Understanding the job duties of the various work trades and how our clients’ products function and fit into the workplace allows our attorneys to fully and favorably develop evidence of the frequency, regularity, duration and intensity of each element of a plaintiff’s asbestos exposure, as well as the characteristics of the job sites, all of which are vital to an industrial hygienist’s assessment of dose. Since all asbestos-related diseases are dose-response diseases, dose has always been the key inquiry in medical research and the industrial hygiene assessment of asbestos health hazards and causation.
By developing reliable evidence of a plaintiff’s dose of exposure to our clients’ products as compared to other products, and by using our knowledge of the medical literature on the health effects of different doses of exposure to the different types of asbestos fibers, we are often able to develop credible medical expert testimony that any alleged exposure to our clients’ products was de minimus and not a substantial factor in the development of any asbestos-related disease. To the extent a plaintiff has an asbestos-related disease, our approach is to develop evidence that it was caused by exposure to the products of the many other companies who are now in bankruptcy as a result of this litigation.
Our attorneys are also well versed in various other defense approaches. Federal officer and federal enclave removal has been effectively used as a tool to convince plaintiffs’ attorneys to dismiss certain of our clients at an early stage and to discourage further filings against them. Our knowledge of federal procurement law, regulations and practice has been used to establish that our clients’ products could not have been used in government applications as contended by the plaintiff’s witnesses. Using “borrowing statutes,” our attorneys have obtained dismissals in instances in which a claim arising in a state with a shorter statute of limitations has been filed in one of our local jurisdictions. Using contractor repose statutes, our attorneys have successfully defended claims brought against clients who installed products as contractors. While our primary approach to this litigation has focused on the point that “it is all about dose,” we have not lost sight of the many other ways to creatively and effectively defend asbestos cases.
The Convergence of Knowledge
Together, the members of the Asbestos Practice Group have an extremely broad base of experience. Our clients benefit not only from their product liability background, but also from their experience in other areas such as personal injury, medical malpractice, construction and workers’ compensation defense. We pride ourselves on our thorough understanding of the workplace and our clients’ products, and of the science and medicine of asbestos exposure and disease, and regularly apply this in-depth knowledge to our clients’ defense. Several members of our Asbestos team have engineering degrees and others have pre-law experience in medicine or other technical disciplines where a deep understanding of the principles of science and medicine are vital. Several members of the Asbestos Practice Group have over a decade of asbestos litigation experience–two attorneys have more than 20 years of experience in this area. We have tried asbestos cases not only in our local jurisdictions, but elsewhere as part of regional and national representation.
Practical and Cost-Effective
Every member our Asbestos Practice Group takes the same practical, cost-conscious approach to handling cases. We attempt to quickly determine which cases involve potential significant exposure to our clients’ products and focus our defense efforts on those cases. In this manner, we can often effectively leverage our preparation into a favorable, early settlement with plaintiffs’ attorneys who are motivated to eliminate our well-prepared attorneys who can undermine their entire case against all defendants. Where cases do not appear to involve potential significant exposure to our clients’ products, we regularly seek and often obtain early dismissals. When dismissals or minimal settlements are not provided, we pursue summary judgment. When cases do go to trial, our attorneys are well known for their preparation, tenacity and creativity.
The senior members of our Asbestos Practice Group are highly respected by the local bench and bar, and have been influential in the enactment of local case management orders designed to allow the resolution of volumes of cases with a minimum of defense costs. King County’s Accelerated Case Review (ACR) system was developed to provide our local clients with an option of negotiating settlements of cases at a relatively early stage before substantial sums of money are expended on complete factual and expert discovery, and trial preparation. The ACR system requires plaintiffs to provide basic medical, asbestos exposure and product identification information at an early stage, and requires the parties to thereafter proceed with court-supervised mediation that occurs before any depositions are taken. While this system is not necessarily suited for all types of defendants, it does allow all defendants an early opportunity to secure key information and seek early dismissals or settlements. Using the ACR system, our clients have had thousands of asbestos cases dismissed or settled at an early stage, resulting in the savings of substantial defense costs. Senior members of our Asbestos Practice Group are also involved in on-going efforts to establish inactive case dockets or otherwise screen out the increasing volume of cases we are now seeing that involve unimpaired plaintiffs whose asbestos-related disease diagnosis comes solely from union screening funded by unions working with plaintiffs’ lawyers. As a result of our efforts, our office prepared the briefing and one of our senior members successfully argued a motion that established an inactive docket for all Seattle area asbestos cases where plaintiffs lack objective evidence of impairment or a diagnosis from a treating (rather than a screening) doctor. We are hopeful that Oregon courts will soon follow suit. We are also actively monitoring and keeping our clients apprised of federal legislative efforts aimed at restoring justice and fairness to the manner in which our civil justice system handles asbestos litigation.
Supporting Staff and Technology
We pride ourselves on our ability to handle asbestos litigation cost effectively by appropriately utilizing the firm’s extensive resources, including paralegals, trained support staff, sophisticated computer resources and state-of-the-art communications equipment. Technology is used to effectively manage the extensive resources we have accumulated in over two decades of asbestos litigation defense work locally, regionally and nationally for dozens of different clients. It is used to manage a database of thousands of depositions and trial transcripts for key experts and for product identification testimony at all major Pacific Northwest job sites. Where appropriate, we can assist clients in developing proprietary databases accessible through a web-enabled Secure Extranet to allow them and their attorneys to access key case-specific information on a uniform standardized, consistent basis for all jurisdictions.
National Coordinating Counsel
Technology and asbestos litigation have much in common. They have both changed dramatically over the past two decades and the pace of their change has accelerated in recent years. Our Asbestos Practice Group has adapted with those changes to ensure that our clients’ matters are handled in the most cost-effective manner possible while using the resources and knowledge we have accumulated in our past 23 years of asbestos litigation defense work.