Lawyer disputes findings of asbestos insurer report

By Tami Kamin Meyer | Nov 19, 2013

OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) -- Experts are in disagreement about the findings of a newly released report that says insurers suffered increasing losses from asbestos and environmental claims in 2012.

The report, relased by of A.M. Best Co., said annual incurred asbestos and environmental losses increased by 12 percent in 2012. That uptick followed a 31 percent decline in 2011.

However, Steven Kazan -- a founding member of the Oakland law firm of Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman -- disputes those findings.

"We have not had an increase in the number of mesothelioma cases over the last five to 10 years," he said. "Good cases are settling for what they should. These are catastrophic injuries with identifiable" plaintiffs.

However, he argued that if insurance companies are reporting increased losses due to asbestos litigation, it's due to their own greed.

"Management is incompetent," Kazan said. "They (insurance companies) behave in ways that drive up costs for no good reason."

However, it seems a report released by the Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Committee on Asbestos Litigation in 1991 is proving prophetic.

According to the 22-year-old report, the latency period of asbestos-related diseases can be as long as 40 years.

"Predictions have been made of 200,000 asbestos disease deaths before the year 2000 and as many as 265,000 by the year 2015," noted the report.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, despite a decrease in mesothelioma deaths in 2011 compared to 2010 (2,291 to 2,360, respectively), annual statistics are expected to increase in future years before reaching a peak toward the end of this decade. In contrast, the number of new cases of mesothelioma leading to Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits has increased from 1,985 in 2011 to 2,125 last year.

Also, a report released by NERA Economic Consulting offers yet another snapshot of the asbestos litigation landscape. The report's authors used publicly available data regarding asbestos-related liabilities from more than 150 companies and found that the asbestos liabilities of solvent entities varied little from 2012 and 2011. However, in their 2012 report, the authors reported the average dollar amount per resolved claim had increased 75 percent between 2010 and 2011.

The report attributed this uptick to an evolving disease mix of the resolved claims, rather than merely an increase in the companies' liabilities for asbestos-only claims.

"I don't know that verdict sizes have increased in the last few years, but they are often the result of insurance company stupidity," Kazan said. "Often a win for a defendant is not a win because it spent a lot" to defend a case.

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