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June 21st, 2012

Channeling Henny Youngman, Peter Angelos Hopes to Make Baltimore the Next Philadelphia

Henny Youngman

Youngman

The undisputed king of one-liners, the late, great Henny Youngman, did a joke for decades that went like this: “I told my doctor it hurts when I do this.  He said don’t do that.”

Peter Angelos

Angelos

Famed mass tort kingpin Peter Angelos could now tell a similar joke: “I told the judge in Baltimore his docket was jammed.  He said stop filing speculative lawsuits.”

But rather than stop, Mr. Angelos is apparently hoping to make Charm City the next Philadelphia when it comes to unfairly consolidating questionable asbestos claims and pressuring defendants into settlements they might not agree to if the cases were handled separately.

In a motion and memorandum filed with the Baltimore City Circuit Court June 19, asking that some 13,000 asbestos lawsuits be consolidated, the Angelos law firm essentially argues that, because it has filed so many cases, the court should help expedite them by stacking the deck against targeted defendants.

Bear in mind, the 13,000 cases Mr. Angelos hopes to consolidate are non-mesothelioma personal injury cases, meaning individual plaintiffs are merely claiming to have been exposed to asbestos but cannot demonstrate any injury to date, or they otherwise allege to suffer illnesses that have not been linked scientifically to asbestos exposure.

In his wishful memorandum, Mr. Angelos lays out a detailed calendar and plan as to how he believes the court should resolve the cases.  He notes that many of the cases have been on the docket since the mid-1990s and, because the docket is so full, won’t likely be resolved for many more years without consolidation.  With little else by way of legal argument, he also cites his success in twice convincing Baltimore’s circuit court to consolidate asbestos cases for him back in the early-1990s. 

But here’s some additional history the court should consider: Dangerous exposures to asbestos all but ceased in the 1970s, once the threat posed by the fibrous material was fully understood.  And if thousands of plaintiffs on whose behalf asbestos claims were filed in the 1990s still have no symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses, perhaps those claims should now be dismissed or withdrawn out of respect for finite court resources and the taxpayers who provide them. 

Such reasonableness would certainly help ease docket backlogs, wouldn’t it, Mr. Angelos?

In any event, as Philadelphia’s chief judge considered when recently ending the consolidation of asbestos cases there, the process plainly advantages plaintiffs over defendants, and Baltimore’s court should rule against the Angelos law firm’s motion.

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