Throughout the firm’s nearly 40-year history, we have prided ourselves on standing up for what’s right and making a difference on a national level.
All the way to the Supreme Court
Baron & Budd’s United States Supreme Court victories in Amchem Products v. Windsor and Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp. are widely considered to be two of the most significant appellate decisions in the past decade for consumer rights.
In 1999, Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp. came in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The case led to months of fierce debate that would shape the future of asbestos litigation. The issue revolved around the future of asbestos claims: Should all future claims by people who are suffering from asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma, be included in a class action settlement, which would allow asbestos companies to settle all future asbestos claims through a trust fund, rather than through litigation? This system would allow the asbestos companies to save millions of dollars –by paying only minimal amounts of money to claimants.
Baron & Budd led the charge against the class action settlement because it would severely limit the right of individuals to pursue their own claims based on their own exposure history and asbestos illness.
Writing on behalf of the Court, Justice Souter questioned the fairness of such a settlement because, if allowed to move forward, Fibreboard would essentially be getting a “get out of jail free card” for the harm their products caused. Fibreboard had planned to settle all asbestos claims, including all future claims, with just $500,000 –barely enough to cover medical expenses for a handful of asbestos claimants.
The decision in Ortiz corroborated an earlier Supreme Court decision in Amchem Products v. Windsor, in which Baron and Budd also fought on behalf of victims’ rights.
National MTBE Settlement
In May 2008, Baron & Budd helped negotiate a settlement on behalf of more than 150 water providers and 17 states regarding Methyl Teritary Butyl Ether (MTBE) contamination in drinking water. The settlement was reached with many of the nation’s leading gas companies, including BP/Amoco and requires the companies to pay water providers’ costs to remove harmful MTBE from public drinking water and for refiners to pay for treatment of certain wells that may become contaminated in the next 30 years.
Baron & Budd attorneys played a leading role in the litigation, with shareholder Scott Summy serving on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) in the litigation.
In 2009, the team of Baron & Budd lawyers who worked on the MTBE litigation were recognized as finalists for the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award, an annual award given by the non-profit organization Public Justice for an attorney’s contribution to the public interest.
Changing the Law for Asbestos Second-Injury Cases
The law in many states allows asbestos patients to bring a second lawsuit to recover additional funds for issues tied to asbestos cancer. This wasn’t, however, always the case. Prior to 2000, Texas law did not allow people to file a second — and separate — asbestos-related lawsuit. That’s when Baron & Budd stepped in.
In Pustejovsky v. Rapid-American Corp., the firm represented an ironworker who developed asbestosis in the early 1980s. At the time, he sued the asbestos company responsible for his disease and won a settlement. However, in the 1990s the same man was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which is also caused by asbestos. He then attempted to file a mesothelioma lawsuit, but the court threw out the new mesothelioma lawsuit because of the earlier asbestosis lawsuit.
But Baron & Budd refused to give up on the client since he was unaware of the full extent of the harm done by asbestos at the time of the first lawsuit, and therefore should receive adequate compensation to reflect his new asbestos issues.
Fortunately, the Texas Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s decision, agreeing that a person who develops an asbestos-related cancer has a right to bring a mesothelioma lawsuit under Texas law even if they previously filed a lawsuit for a different asbestos-related disease.
In addition to convincing the Texas Supreme Court to change Texas law, Baron & Budd also led the battle to convince the Supreme Court of Iowa and an appellate court in Florida to recognize the right of asbestos victims to pursue two separate asbestos-related lawsuits if their situation permits. Today, many states around the country allow asbestos patients to file a second lawsuit if they develop a separate, asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma.
Tucson Water Contamination Case that Defined Arizona Pollution Law
In 1985, Baron & Budd filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 1,600 Tucson-area residents against an aircraft manufacturer, the city of Tucson and the Tucson Airport Authority over TCE contamination of the community’s groundwater. Since Tucson is the largest city in the United States that receives all of its drinking water from underground sources, the industrial solvents used at the airport by an aircraft company were of particular concern. Spilled on the ground and seeping through the sandy soil into the groundwater, the invisible yet harmful contaminants caused several unusual forms of cancer and other diseases at almost epidemic levels, particularly among children.
Even though the battle for justice took more than 20 years and an enormous investment in upfront resources, Baron & Budd pushed on and prevailed. The firm’s cutting-edge work on this case not only brought compensation to these individuals to help them deal with the consequences of the contamination, it helped define Arizona law on pollution issues.
For the firm’s work on this case, the non-profit organization Public Justice presented the Baron & Budd legal team with the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award in 2006, which recognizes the trial attorney or attorneys who have made the greatest contribution to the public interest by trying or settling a precedent-setting case or group of cases.