Federal lawsuit alleges insurance company willfully withheld in Libby asbestos case – Daily Montanan

Just weeks after a Cascade County judge and jury agreed that the insurance company that represented the Libby asbestos mine must pay a former miner there $36.5 million, the filing That man’s lawyer filed a lawsuit in federal court, saying Zurich American Insurance Company has stalled and dragged out the court proceedings in an effort to force him to settle the lawsuit before other cases are filed. the asbestos.

Ralph V. Hutt won a jury trial in which Zurich, which bought the Maryland Casualty Company, had a duty to warn miners and those working at the Libby, Montana, plant that about the dangers of asbestos, produced or “popped” from the mineral vermiculite, which was mined there.

The jury awarded Hutt $6.5 million in damages, including the medical care he will need. He is now housebound, suffering from the effects of lung disease that appears to be caused by asbestos fibers that scar the lungs and may cause cancer.

The jury also awarded $30 million to the insurance company that conspired with WR Grace and Company, Libby’s mining company, to cover up the danger and damage. caused by exposure to minerals.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, attorneys for Hutt, Clifford, Christopher and John Edwards of Edwards and Culver in Billings, outline actions taken by Zurich to ignore the lawsuit. a Hutt in an attempt to delay payment or force him to settle for a very small amount.

In the suit, Hutt claims Zurich earned more in profits and interest than it would eventually pay Hutt and other Libby residents to follow. The so-called “breach of opportunity” means that “Zurich’s profit on withholding payments to Hutt and other Libby Asbestos Claimants is greater than what is paid out on these insurances.” .”

“It is beneficial for Zurich to breach its obligations to resolve claims and to increase the time it can receive income on the money owed to them,” the complaint said.

The plan, described in court filings, says it appears that Zurich wants to continue Hutt’s trial almost indefinitely because he is the first, or bellwether, case. Because his case was so credible, lawyer Clifford Edwards argued that Zurich had a desire to ensure justice – and payments – were delayed, in part to discourage other claims.

“Specifically Zurich used tactics designed to take advantage of Hutt’s vulnerable position by withholding medical fees and low-ball offers,” the suit says.

Representatives from Zurich declined to comment on the matter for this story.

Zurich’s lawsuit says there are several reasons to delay a decision or drag out court proceedings: If Hutt’s case succeeds, it will set a precedent for similar cases, and a court record full of in facts and documents.

While Hutt faced years of litigation, Zurich denied the claims, including support for health services, for example, supplemental oxygen.

Part of the case is supported by a Montana Supreme Court decision last year, when the state’s highest court held that Maryland Casualty breached its duty of strict discipline. from Chief Justice Mike McGrath:

“Maryland Casualty Company was not just negligent in failing to act; but, in determining the temporary period for asbestosis to develop, the MCC took covert actions to conceal asbestos exposure and worker injuries to avoid liability, thereby increasing the risk of damage to workers from further exposure to asbestos.

The suit said that by playing some kind of hardball with Hutt, Zurich could reduce liability. Since Hutt’s case was the first of its kind, if Hutt had stayed, it would likely have left Zurich in a better position for other cases. This made for a high-profile court game as Hutt struggled to leave the house due to his illness, which may have been caused by a viral infection. asbestos, court records say.

“At an annual rate of return of more than 11%, Zurich has received hundreds of millions of dollars on the Libby asbestos claim reserve for the full collection of debts over the past 20 years of court,” the suit said. “Even if Zurich pays Hutt and all other Libby Asbestos Claimants the full amount of their fines and penalties, the delay will cost Zurich more money than it pays.”

Clifford Edwards argues in court records that the delay is not just about not paying the injured or a legal dispute.

“Since the Hutt and Libby Asbestos Claimants need money to pay medical expenses, to resolve their asbestos-related injuries, and to get a fair resolution in their lives, the process Zurich’s profits make real profit a human suffering project.”

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