This year’s New York Asbestos Conference was co-chaired by Charles Ferguson, chair of Weitz & Luxenberg’s Mesothelioma and Asbestos Practice Group. Three other attorneys from W&L were presenters at various sessions throughout the day.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was held virtually, with presenters and attendees logging in via teleconference. Many different sessions were presented, as well as opening remarks from the co-chairs.
Welcome Opening Remarks
As one of the co-chairs of the conference, Ferguson welcomed the attendees. His remarks focused on the new Standards of Civility that have been adopted by the courts system for the State of New York. Ferguson stressed that civility in proceedings between lawyers, and between lawyers and witnesses, was even more important in this new age of COVID-19.
“There is a reason our firm sponsors and participates in this important conference,” explained Ferguson. “As long as asbestos exposure continues to occur, our attorneys want to share our knowledge and help our clients suffering from mesothelioma and lung cancer, and all Americans, get the justice they need and deserve.”
Women’s Perspective Panel
The effects of the pandemic were of central concern for the opening session, The Women’s Perspective Panel. Participants discussed how this has affected their practices. Patti L. Burshtyn was one of the participants. Burshtyn is a supervising attorney at Weitz & Luxenberg in our Asbestos Litigation group. She presented statistics on the effect the pandemic has had on women in the workforce.
Burshtyn made the point that, “Because many of our attorneys and support staff have had to work from home, this has prompted changes in the work/life balance.” She discussed using technology, such as FaceTime and Zoom, “to modify how we interact with our clients, preserve their testimony, and ensure their safety. Their health is our priority.”
Other issues that were discussed by members of panel included the responsibility of senior women at law firms to ensure that they help foster an environment where women’s talents are developed and nourished. The panelists also discussed the importance of developing a diverse workforce. A major concern was emphasizing civility and the ability to get along with adversaries. Attorneys on both sides, as well as their clients, are feeling increased tensions due to the pandemic, which has not only affected physical health but has taken a toll on mental health. Everyone agreed that it is important to be kinder to each other and more cognizant of the pressures that we are all facing at this unprecedented time.
Appellate Roundtable and Summary Judgement Decisions
At the Appellate Roundtable and Summary Judgement Decisions panel, there were presentations on how current appellate court decisions will affect asbestos litigation. Alani Golanski, director of the Appellate Litigation Unit at Weitz & Luxenberg, offered views about both New York appellate decisions and matters pending before the United States Supreme Court.
Golanski and his colleagues on the panel focused on decisions concerning issues of causation – what injured a person and how it can be proved – and personal jurisdiction – establishing where cases should be filed and which court they should be tried in.
Golanski explained why certain appellate controversies merit special attention and how they will likely affect asbestos and toxic tort cases in 2021. “It’s critical that litigants identify the most viable jurisdiction for each case and thoroughly understand nuances in the law of causation in order to maintain standards of excellence and achieve success for clients in the courtroom.”
Talc Legislation Update
The number of cases where consumers have developed mesothelioma or ovarian cancer after using talc-based products have been increasing and was discussed in another panel discussion.
When talc is mined, it is often contaminated with asbestos. Consumers who use baby powder, body powders, makeup, and other products containing talc can be exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos fibers.
The panel discussed the current state of litigation, recent plaintiff verdicts in the talc litigation, and some of the nuances in working up and prosecuting these cases.
The issue of discovery and how discovery can be obtained from talc defendants was a focus of the roundtable. Trial attorney Danny R. Kraft, Jr. discussed the reluctance of talc defendants to openly comply with discovery in NYCAL.
Kraft outlined a sequence of events in a recent case where plaintiffs have been seeking discovery from one recalcitrant defendant for almost 2 years. Kraft discussed recent Special Master and Coordinating NYCAL Asbestos Judge rulings ordering said defendant to produce discovery. “Some of these talc defendants want to be treated differently from every other plaintiff and defendant in the NYCAL litigation,” Kraft explained to the audience.
Kraft questioned what these talc defendants are hiding and why they are so reluctant to open up their document repositories. Kraft and the other plaintiff panelists vowed to leave no stone unturned and to shine a spotlight on the conduct of these talc defendants.
“In the end, as we have done with more traditional asbestos defendants in the past, we will uncover evidence beneficial to our cases and expose these companies and their negligence,” Kraft promised. It may take some time but justice always ultimately prevails. Stay tuned in 2021 as many of these talc cases move towards trial after the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 wanes.
Cutting-Edge Asbestos Conference
The contributions to the conference by our experienced attorneys show why Weitz & Luxenberg is considered one of the leading authorities in the field of asbestos litigation. Our firm has been representing thousands of mesothelioma clients, and doing so over three decades of legal work. We’ve helped them get awarded more than $8.5 billion in verdicts and settlements.
This cutting-edge asbestos conference highlights panels and discussions focusing on New York asbestos litigation. It brings together leading attorneys in the field and industry professionals. We are proud to be a part of it.