February 6, 2012 – In September 2011, a Montana District Court approved a $43 million state settlement to compensate victims of asbestos exposure from the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine at Libby. To date, more than 200 of the 1,128 claimants named in the settlement have received their portion. Another 600 claimants are close to receiving their share, while hundreds of others must wait a while longer, as their attorneys work through the process of obtaining releases from Medicare liens before all the settlement proceeds can be distributed.
Claimants whose medical care was covered by the Grace Libby Medical Plan or private insurance were not subject to Medicare liens. However, those claimants who did receive Medicare payments for their medical expenses must give back to Medicare what it paid out. These reimbursements will come from their share of the settlement proceeds. The claimants’ attorneys and Medicare officials are working closely to “fast track” release of the liens.
Three factors were noted as influencing the $43 million dollar settlement. First, the Montana Supreme Court held in a previous asbestos lawsuit that the state had a duty to miners and their families under the Industrial Hygiene Act. Second, in the case at hand, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court issued an injunction stopping proceedings against the state of Montana, two levels of appeal followed, and the parties finally executed a memorandum of understanding leading to the $43 settlement. Finally, the claimants’ expert witness, a renowned pulmonary specialist from the Center for Asbestos Related Disease in Libby, had treated the Libby asbestos victims for many years, documented the unique nature of Libby asbestos exposure, and was therefore difficult to dispute with other medical experts.
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