State of Montana Settles Asbestos Lawsuit for $24M

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 23, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A vermiculite mine in northwestern Montana was one of the principal industries for residents in the town of Libby. Unfortunately, a byproduct of mining vermiculite is asbestos, which, for decades, has been known to be a dangerous, toxic substance from which exposure can result in severe illness causing death.

As a result of the mass exposure, workers in the mine, their families, and other residents of the town made up the thousands who have gotten sick over the years. While the mine is now closed, the residents of Libby have been left to face the aftermath.

Mine Owners Avoid Liability

While the mine's owners escaped civil liability by declaring bankruptcy, the state of Montana was found to be liable for failing to intervene despite knowing that the asbestos dust from the mine was causing serious injuries and deaths.

The mine's owners also managed to avoid criminal liability, despite being charged in one of the largest environmental crime prosecutions in history. The $24 million is set to be distributed amongst the 1,087 plaintiffs from the 2 separate settlements, as well as to their attorneys. There is an additional $11.2 million that may be added to the settlements from the state's insurance carrier.

Procedural History and Future

The mine just outside Libby, Montana closed in 1999. However, asbestos has been a known toxic substance since, at least, the 1950s. In 2004, the state's Supreme Court overturned a 2002 decision and found that the state had a duty to warn the miners of the dangers, but failed to do so. Since then, there have been other cases holding the state liable. In 2011, a different group of approximately 1,000 plaintiffs settled similar asbestos injury claims against the state for $43 million.

The recent settlement involved individuals who had not been diagnosed as affected by the asbestos exposure at the time of the earlier settlements. Because of the sometimes decades long latency period for asbestos related illnesses, there may be more claims in the future if new diagnoses are made that are attributable to the Libby mine exposure.

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