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Settlement Reached in Most Brooklyn Navy Yard Cases

September 13, 1990 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ In an important settlement in the nation’s biggest product liability issue, attorneys resolved almost all 265 asbestos lawsuits related to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, pleasing a judge who wants to clear court dockets nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein and New York state Supreme Court Justice Helen E. Freedman on Wednesday called off a joint trial in the cases, which stem from asbestos exposure at the old shipyard dating to the 1940s.

The judges praised both sides for ″extraordinary efforts to dispose of these cases without expensive and time-consuming trials.″ Details on the amount of the settlements were not revealed.

Weinstein has been leading an effort to reduce the nation’s backlog of 90,000 asbestos lawsuits clogging state and federal courts.

″This is important to demonstrate that settlement of mass cases is possible,″ said Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed by Weinstein in April to try to settle the cases out of court.

Weinstein also is participating in the restructuring of the Manville trust, which handles some 130,000 pending settlement claims against Manville Corp. And he is overseeing creation of a class action to resolve lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers that cannot meet outstanding claims.

In several court hearings in recent months, Weinstein has stressed the need for plaintiffs lawyers and defendant companies to reach out-of-court settlements. He also has criticized the amount lawyers have received for handling the cases.

Asbestos trials routinely require redundant legal investigation of each claim of illness or death related to asbestos, the insulation material that was used widely at shipyards and other construction sites for decades. The Brooklyn trial had been expected to last six months.

Attorneys in involved in the case said more than 200 of the 265 pending lawsuits had been settled. The judges said the remaining cases would proceed to trial separately in state and federal court, rather than in a joint trial.

Settlement negotiations had whittled the number of Brooklyn Navy Yard cases down from 615 when Weinstein and Freedman announced consolidation into a single trial.

Feinberg said negotiations would continue to resolve the remaining cases before opening arguments scheduled for next week.

New York has been slow to resolve serious cases involving diseases such as lung cancer and other respiratory ailments because of a glitch in state law.

Unlike most other states, New York’s legislature had applied a statute of limitations that effectively prevented lawsuits against asbestos makers. Illness from inhaling asbestos fibers can take decades to appear, but the state had required suing close to the time of exposure.

In 1986, the state lifted the ban, allowing claimants one year to file claims against asbestos manufacturers. Many of those claims, some of which were diagnosed as long ago as 20 years, only now are being resolved.

The government shipyard in Brooklyn first opened in the 1780s and was known formally as the New York Naval Yard. Construction peaked during World War II, when 70,000 people worked there round the clock. The facility was ordered closed in 1964.