The Montana Supreme Court is establishing an asbestos claims court to deal with hundreds of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits stemming from vermiculite mining.
The order, which was signed on Nov. 28, will move nearly 600 pending cases out of District Courts and into the specialty court. Flathead County District Court Judge Amy Eddy has been selected to preside over all pretrial proceedings. State officials hope that by consolidating the cases, they will be able to move more quickly through the judicial system.
The Montana Legislature gave the Supreme Court the authority to establish an asbestos court during the 2001 legislative session. The authority to create an asbestos court came when the scope of Libby’s asbestos contamination was first discovered. Since 2001, Libby and the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine has become ground zero for one of the largest environmental cleanups in American history. Thousands of people have been sickened and hundreds of people have died because of asbestos-related diseases.
Officials hope that most of the cases will be settled. However, if attorneys on either side cannot negotiate a deal outside of the courtroom, the case will be heard before a judge in the district court it was originally filed in. The 2001 law gives the Legislature the authority however to fully fund the asbestos court and appoint a permanent judge to hear all cases that go to trial.
Attorneys who represent clients in asbestos-related cases have until Dec. 28 to file a notice of appearance within the court.