One of the dangers of asbestos exposure is the fact that disease symptoms related to contact with the material can take between 20 and 50 years to develop. Patients may not know they’re sick for decades. In the meantime, the business dynamics of the unscrupulous companies responsible for asbestos exposure may shift dramatically. However, that doesn’t make them any less accountable to the victims they hurt, and it doesn’t make the situation any less appalling when these companies try to dodge their responsibility in asbestos lawsuits.
Recently, I came across a story in Bloomberg that discussed how Pfizer can now shed its asbestos-related liability after contributing $964 million to Quigley, which is one of its subsidiaries.
Drug giant passes the buck
In 1968, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer bought a smaller company known as Quigley, which manufactured asbestos-containing products between the 1940s and 1970s. One of the most popular products was Insulag, which was a form of powdered insulation that was sold in a package brandishing the Pfizer logo after the buyout.
By 1992, most of Quigley’s operations came to a halt, and in 2004, the company filed for bankruptcy. After, about 160,000 asbestos lawsuits were filed against Quigley. Pfizer was also named as a defendant in many of these asbestos lawsuits, but the drug company insisted it had never manufactured or sold products that contained asbestos.
In 2010, Pfizer proposed paying $216.2 million to cover all claims up to that point, but the presiding judge on the case rejected the proposal in part because it was estimated that these claims can reach $4.45 billion over 42 years.
The newly approved bankruptcy plan for Quigley has Pfizer paying $964 million. The case didn’t stop there, though. Pfizer tried to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately denied the company’s request.
The Daily Bankruptcy Review also noted that, previously, Pfizer paid more than $1 billion in asbestos compensation.
Asbestos exposure has devastating consequences
While the focus of the recent action in this case was on the bankruptcy proceeding, it shouldn’t be forgotten that behind all of these figures and legal terms are real victims and their families, who have suffered immensely because of asbestos exposure.
Many workers were exposed to the substance on the job due to its industrial uses and ignorance of the deadly consequences it can pose.
It has now been known for decades that coming into contact with asbestos can cause a range of serious illnesses. These diseases include asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer that attacks the thin membrane that lines the chest, abdomen and many of the body’s internal organs.
These diseases often don’t manifest symptoms until decades after the exposure that caused them. This lag in time between exposure and diagnosis helps explain how a defunct company like Quigley could still be responsible for victims who only now know that they’re sick. In addition, this delay makes the effective treatment of the illnesses very difficult because, often, the disease has progressed beyond the point where a cure is possible.