People who were diagnosed with Libby asbestos-related disease prior to Feb. 25, 2015, have until Feb. 25 this year to ﬁle a claim against W.R. Grace & Co. as part of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
A personal injury trust was set up with a three-year time frame as part of the Grace bankruptcy proceedings to handle personal injury claims, according to Roger Sullivan, an attorney with the Kalispell law ﬁrm McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan & Lacey, which represents a majority of Libby claimants whose asbestos-related disease is linked to exposure from the defunct vermiculite mine Grace operated for decades near Libby.
In Montana, the statute of limitations to ﬁle a claim is three years from the date of diagnosis of an injury. In this case the injury is asbestos-related disease.
“Because of the bankruptcy proceedings, many folks who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease more than three years ago have had the statute of limitations tolled as to claims against Grace,” Sullivan said. “However, once the trust began accepting claims, the statute began to run.”
As an example, if a person was diagnosed with asbestos-related disease in 2008, but hasn’t hired an attorney and therefore has had no claims ﬁled, his statute of limitations on claims other than Grace probably ran in 2011, Sullivan said, noting there are exceptions.
Because of the bankruptcy tolling, the claims against the Grace trust won’t expire until Feb. 25, 2018.
If a claimant does not ﬁle a claim before Feb. 25, “he will not have a single entity to recover against for his asbestos-related disease,” Sullivan explained.
“The reason why we’re doing our best to put out the word is because some people who have been diagnosed do not have any signiﬁcant pulmonary impairment,” Sullivan said. “This is primarily because of CARD’s [Center for Asbestos Related Disease] early detection of disease. They may have a small spot on their lungs and meet the diagnostic criteria for asbestos-related disease, but it isn’t impacting their life in any signiﬁcant way.
“Additionally, for some younger folks there may be an element of avoidance,” Sullivan continued. “They have seen their grandparents and parents go through the disease and simply don’t want to admit they have a disease. This is an understandable human response … but the consequence is that if someone does end up progressing in the future, and they have been diagnosed with a disease more than three years ago, they will probably have no recompense against any entity, including the primary culprit.
Because of delay in consulting with an attorney, we’re already seeing that some of our new clients only have a claim against Grace because the statute has run on other potential defendants.”
Sullivan said if a person with Libby asbestos-related disease is a client of the McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan & Lacey law ﬁrm, a claim already has been ﬁled on those clients’ behalf. The ﬁrm has ﬁled 2,200 claims to date that relate to Libby asbestos exposure.
Lung screenings have been ongoing for years at the CARD clinic in Libby, with about 8,300 people screened to date.