E-Alert Case Updates
Baltimore City Circuit Court Denies Mass Consolidation of Asbestos Cases
In re: Baltimore City Asbestos Litigation
In 2012, a local Baltimore Plaintiffs’ counsel filed a Motion to Consolidate 13,000 of its currently-pending asbestos personal injury cases (“Consolidation III”), arguing, in part, that such a consolidation would alleviate the backlog on the asbestos docket. Just recently, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City denied the Motion for Consolidation.
The Honorable John M. Glynn, writing for the Court, stated that he had little faith that the “ill-defined” proposal by Plaintiffs’ counsel would improve the operation of the asbestos docket. The Court noted that the “indiscriminate combination of a large number of cases, the details of which are little known, poses too great a risk of confusion of the issues.”
The Court also praised the current inactive docket, which permits a Plaintiff to file a case to preserve the statute of limitations, but places those cases on an inactive docket until there is medical evidence to “activate” the case. The Court was unwilling to proceed to consolidate those cases without “first undertaking an inquiry into the quality and nature of those pending claims.”
Although the Court denied the Consolidation III motion, it encouraged an ongoing dialogue regarding the management of the asbestos docket. The Court suggested that plaintiff and defense representatives caucus with the Court to discuss alternative solutions. The Court also suggested arbitration, legislative intervention, and the implementation of MDL procedures to reduce the asbestos docket. Overall, the Court did not want to stifle discussion on improving the management of the docket; yet, it was clear that it was not going to approve a Consolidation III.
Consolidation III would have involved a three (3) phase trial plan. Phase I would adjudicate certain “common issues” and include fifteen (15) illustrative Plaintiffs to be selected by Plaintiffs’ counsel. Phase II would address punitive damages. Phase III would consist of mini-trials of all the remaining consolidated cases in groupings of up to twenty-five (25) cases. The common issues resolved in Phase I would supposedly apply to the mini-trials through collateral estoppel and/or res judicata. Plaintiffs’ counsel proposed that the consolidation would apply to any case NOT involving: 1) a mesothelioma diagnosis; 2) asbestos/smoking synergy causation; or 3) “special exposure” (which Plaintiffs’ counsel defined as plaintiffs exposed to asbestos-containing dust generated as a result of handling, removal, and use of non-traditional asbestos-containing products).
Historically, there have been two prior mass asbestos consolidations in Baltimore City, which occurred in the 1990’s (Abate I and Abate II). This renewed request for a proposed third consolidation, which has been dormant for about twenty (20) years, was characterized by the defense bar as unworkable and doomed to fail. Defendants criticized the proposal as vague and a colossal waste of judicial resources. Ultimately, the Court denied Consolidation III.
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