Science and Law
23rd June 2015

Asbestos Science and Liability: An effort to challenge the status quo

Over the past several months Innovative Science Solutions has been part of a multi-disciplinary collaboration with Assured Research and Kirk Hartley to explore the confluence of developments that have potential to create material changes in the volume and expense of asbestos litigation.

Asbestos Science and Liability: An effort to challenge the status quo

This article was authored by Bill Wilt of Assured Research. In this post, Bill provides an advanced summary of research that was performed for an upcoming White Paper on asbestos science and liability. The White Paper will be published as a joint offering by Innovative Science Solutions, Assured Research, and Kirk Hartley. You can find brief biographical sketches on both Bill and Kirk at the end of the blog post.

 

Over the past several months Innovative Science Solutions has been part of a multi-disciplinary collaboration with Assured Research and Kirk Hartley to explore the confluence of developments that have potential to create material changes in the volume and expense of asbestos litigation. The report, set for release in mid-July, will identify important questions that all stakeholders in asbestos litigation may wish to ask to more broadly understand future possibilities and ranges of outcomes. Portions of the paper will also be presented in September at the Casualty Loss Reserve Seminar to be held in Atlanta. We invite meetings with industry professionals at that event.

The report, set for release in mid-July, will identify important questions that all stakeholders in asbestos litigation may wish to ask to more broadly understand future possibilities and ranges of outcomes.

In addition to the exploration of the latest legal developments and science that could reshape the asbestos landscape, our paper shines a light on the dismal insurance industry track record on asbestos reserving. (Re)insurers have accrued some $49 billion for asbestos liabilities since 1996, adding nearly $7 billion to asbestos loss reserves to stay ahead of $42 billion in net paid losses. After a round of reserve strengthening in the 2002-2005 timeframe the industry has settled into a pay-as-you-go trance.

Yet we are in the midst of substantial changes across social, legal, medical, and demographic trends that will, in all likelihood, materially affect the quantification of insurers’ future expenses for asbestos claims. Questions need to be asked because insurers relying on outdated actuarial models or reluctant to invest time and resources into staying abreast of these developments could be blindsided in the years ahead.

Those developments are explored in the paper, but the manifestation of these many trends can be seen in the graph to the right. In short, evidence from the 

past few years reveals that mesotheliomas in the US are not declining as quickly as previously predicted by actuarial models trained on curves first postulated by William Nicholson in the mid-1980s (the underpinning of actuarial models in use today). 

Not only has medical research advanced our understanding of asbestos-induced diseases well beyond the literature available 30 years ago, but people are living into their asbestos-induced diseases beyond what researchers in the 1980s and 1990s could comprehend or foresee. That widening gap between actual/forecasted mesothelioma cases and those predicted by the original Nicholson curve (indicated by the arrows in the graph) could lead to another round of reserve strengthening for asbestos liabilities. The driver this time would be a chronic underestimation of the number of reported mesothelioma cases.

We look forward to sharing more in our upcoming paper and through industry outreach.

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Bill Wilt of Assured Research has had a 25-year career supporting the insurance industry. He has spanned many roles including: executive (re)insurance positions, equity and credit analyst, and actuarial consulting positions.  Bill blends these experiences into a unique perspective on the industry at Assured Research.

Kirk Hartley’s over 30 years of practice has focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.” The overall result is that Kirk is deeply familiar with the growing and changing intersections between tort law, corporate law, insurance, and science. 

 

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