The long legal battle between Montana and more than 1,100 people who claim they were sickened by exposure to asbestos from a Libby, Mont., minerals mine finally may be coming to an end.
The Daily Inter Lake newspaper of Kalispell, Mont., reports that the state is in the “final stages” of negotiating a $43 million settlement with the Libby asbestos victims. The Associated Press said it had obtained claimant notices showing that the deal would pay individual claimants from $21,500 to $60,700, depending on the severity of sickness.
The now-shuttered mine, which was operated by W.R. Grace & Co., extracted vermiculite and processed it using a procedure that generated substantial airborne dust containing tremolite asbestos fibers. Most of Libby’s victims never worked in the mine but were sickened after family members brought mine dust home on their clothing or after spending time, as children, playing in mine residues. According to a 2004 documentary film, it is the largest case of community-wide exposure to a toxic substance in U.S. history.
The claims against the state date back to the early 2000s. They alleged that state health officials failed to warn the victims of the risks associated with asbestos-laden vermiculite. The state “effectively became Grace’s accomplice and aided and abetted Grace’s concealment of this enormous public health problem,” one of the lawsuits said.
The Daily Inter Lake said claimants have been warned not to share details of the settlement with anyone or the deal could be scrapped. But one victim disclosed to the newspaper that he was concerned that the state would be released from any further liability for the widespread death and disease caused by the asbestos exposure. “They’re not admitting any guilt,” he said. “I feel like they’re gonna brush us under the mat.”
Attorneys for the victims will get one-third of the proposed settlement, roughly $14 million, the newspaper said, and about $500,000 will be held back for a contingency fund.
In a key ruling, the Montana Supreme Court said in 2004 that Montana should have warned miners about health hazards identified by state officials in Libby as early as the 1950s. Ever since then, lawyers for Montana and the victims have been negotiating a monetary settlement that would release state agencies from future liability.