BILLINGS – More than 1,100 victims of asbestos contamination are nearing a $43 million settlement over claims that Montana health officials failed to warn miners about the hazards of a deadly vermiculite mine, documents in the case show.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened following decades of exposure to asbestos from the now-shuttered W.R. Grace & Co. mine in the small northwestern Montana town of Libby.
Claimant notices obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday show at least 1,125 victims are considering a deal that calls for payments ranging from $21,500 to the $60,700, depending on the severity of sickness. Attorneys in the case would get one-third of the $43 million, which would be subtracted from victim payments.
Terms of the deal were first reported by the Daily Inter Lake.
In 2004, the Montana Supreme Court said the state should have warned miners about hazards first identified by state officials in Libby in the 1950s. Attorneys for the state and victims have since been negotiating terms of a monetary settlement under which state agencies would be released from future liability.
Those negotiations stem from multiple lawsuits brought against the state asserting it failed to protect victims in Libby.
Attorney Tom Lewis, whose Great Falls firm represents some of the victims, said he could not comment on the settlement.
“The people of Libby have been waiting a long time. We’ve been working on this case a long time,” Lewis said. “I can’t comment on ongoing litigation because it’s not ethical for me to do so.”
Lewis added that claimants “have to keep quiet until this goes through the proper process.”
The Libby mine closed in 1999, and more than $300 million has been spent on a cleanup that is expected to go on for years.
W.R. Grace & Co. escaped most liability when it filed for bankruptcy after the extent of contamination was revealed.
One claimant in the state settlement said he was not satisfied with the terms but signed anyway to move on and be done with the lingering litigation. People involved in the case have been told by lawyers not to speak publicly about the case while settlement talks are ongoing, and the man spoke on condition of anonymity because he was worried about jeopardizing claims made by other members of his family.
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