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ATRA POINTS TO BALTIMORE TRIAL AS EXAMPLE OF 'EXCESSES OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL JUSTICE SYSTEM'

 ATRA POINTS TO BALTIMORE TRIAL AS EXAMPLE
 OF 'EXCESSES OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL JUSTICE SYSTEM'
 WASHINGTON, July 8 /PRNewswire/ -- A mass trial which has been unraveling in Baltimore City Court since March illustrates the dire straits of the American civil justice system, commented Martin F. Connor, president of the American Tort Reform Association.
 The Baltimore trial, a mass consolidation of nearly 9,000 personal injury claims resulting from alleged exposure to asbestos, represents the largest consolidated trial in U.S. history. The majority of alleged exposures occurred at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrow's Point, Md.
 "Personal injury claims involving asbestos are a prime example of the excesses of the American civil justice system," Connor said. "Lawyers and unimpaired claimants are getting rich while deserving plaintiffs and defendants pay."
 Mass consolidations typically force juries to make critical distinctions based on broad generalizations, affording neither plaintiffs nor defendants their individual "day in court." In the Baltimore trial, the claims of nearly 9,000 people are being addressed through a discovery process involving only six plaintiffs. Similarly, the fate of the defendants in this trial depends, to a great extent, on the jury's assessment of those six plaintiffs. Rather than face the jury under such skewed conditions, many defendants have already settled the claims against them.
 "The Baltimore trial points to a serious problem in asbestos litigation that our courts have for the most part ignored -- the vast majority of the nearly 100,000 asbestos claims pending nationwide do not involve any physical injury. The claimants may have been exposed to asbestos, but have no symptoms of an asbestos-related disease," Connor said. "Consolidating claims, as is happening in Baltimore, means that many seriously injured claimants, who need funds to pay medical expenses, may ultimately be uncompensated or undercompensated because available funds were used to pay thousands of healthy claimants."
 Moreover, according to Connor, of the more than $7 billion that has been spent on asbestos litigation so far, only 29 cents on the dollar has actually gone to claimants. "Asbestos litigation has been a money machine for plaintiffs' attorneys. Seventy-one cents on the dollar in asbestos cases goes to transaction costs, including attorneys' fees," he said.
 Lawyers representing asbestos plaintiffs are usually paid contingency fees ranging from 25 to 50 percent of the amount of settlement or verdict. Ostensibly, such high rates cover the plaintiffs attorneys' "risk" of losing the case and not being paid. "In most asbestos cases, 'contingency fees' are a farce," Connor noted. "The issues are fairly clear cut, and the defendants generally are prepared to compensate the injured plaintiffs.
 "It is precisely this lack of contingency that spurs plaintiffs' attorneys to take client recruiting junkets," he commented.
 The American Tort Reform Association is a broadbased coalition of nearly 400 organizations -- small and large businesses, professional societies, trade associations and non-profits -- whose sole goal is to restore fairness, efficiency and predictability to America's civil justice system.
 -0- 7/8/92
 /CONTACT: Rose Licht for the American Tort Reform Association, 202-337-5990/ CO: American Tort Reform Association ST: Maryland IN: SU:


TW -- DC005 -- 7308 07/08/92 09:32 EDT
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Date:Jul 8, 1992
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