Nine-term Democrat congresswoman from New York, Carolyn McCarthy, who reportedly smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for much of her life, claims that her lung cancer is a direct result of asbestos poisoning. Yet, New York Times writer Joe Nocera claims that she is joining a growing trend of people suing for damages against companies that once used asbestos, unfairly blaming them for their lung disease. Nocera does not think it was coincidental that when McCarthy was diagnosed with lung cancer she quit smoking. Rather he surmises she most likely heeded the advice of scientists, who approximate that 90% of all lung cancer is brought about by smoking.
McCarthy says she developed her condition by inhaling fibers that were on the clothing of her father and brothers who worked on Navy ships and utilities. In a legal filing, she complained that, “I have had mental and emotional distress and inconvenience. I am fearful of death.” She continued, “My asbestos-related condition has disrupted my life, limiting me in my everyday activities and interfering with living a normal life.”
Nocera says it should not be underestimated that the asbestos related disease mesothelioma is a serious condition that causes suffering for its victims, but over the years there has been a growing trend of plaintiff attorneys bringing thousands of phony cases. Nocera says the scam works by initiating class action lawsuits, then packaging phony claims, which could not win on their own merits, with legitimate ones. Using high powered law firms, plaintiffs have taken down a huge collection of companies with damages ranging from $500,000 to $5 million.
These suits have bankrupted over 100 companies and one might think that after 40 years of litigation there would be no companies left to sue. But since asbestos was once used universally by companies, according to Nocera, McCarthy and her lawyers found 70 more companies to throw into her lawsuit, including giants General Electric and Pfizer. Lester Brickman, a professor at Yeshiva University, is a critic of exploitative lawsuits involving bogus asbestos poisoning. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think they will go away soon because asbestos litigation, “is a constant search for viable defendants.”