What is the underlying legal theory of Asbestos lawsuits?

Asbestos used to be a main component of many products due to its affordability, accessibility and versatility. For most of the 20th century, asbestos was used in tiles, insulation, automotive parts and even consumer products such as small appliances, baby powder and potting soil. Before its potentially lethal effects became widely known, asbestos companies and manufacturers had evidence of its dangers and continued to market it to the public.

Even though asbestos is now strictly regulated, product liability cases concerning asbestos exposure are on the rise. This is partly because some asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma can take up to 40 years to develop and even longer to reveal their full devastating toll.

In order to ensure accountability for wrongful death or compensate for the cost of treatment, those negatively affected by asbestos often choose to bring cases against asbestos companies and manufacturers of asbestos products.

The underlying legal theory of such cases is product liability. Product liability claims can be based on strict liability, negligence or breach of warranty. The most common basis for proving fault in such claims is strict liability. Strict liability allows a person injured by an “unreasonably dangerous” consumer product to receive compensation from the seller or manufacturer of that product without having to prove that the seller or manufacturer was negligent.

Unlike negligence or breach of warranty, strict liability does not require the consumer to prove their injuries were caused by the seller or manufacturer’s carelessness. Only three conditions must be met in addition to proving that the consumer was injured by the product: that the product had an unreasonably dangerous defect developed during the design, manufacturing process, or shipping and handling; that the consumer was using the product in a way it was intended to be used; and that there was no change made to the way the product originally performed when it was sold.

Causation is often the most difficult element to prove in a product liability case. This is particularly true of asbestos-related lawsuits because of the often substantial amount of time that it takes for an injury to surface after asbestos exposure. In attempting to avoid liability, asbestos companies or product manufacturers will likely argue that other hazardous substances could have been the cause during that time. In this, and many other ways, asbestos-related lawsuits have their own unique nuances and are best handled by attorneys experienced in that particular area.