The term asbestos describes several naturally occurring mineral fibers, of which chrysotile, amosite, anthophyllite and crocidolite are commercially important. The fiber, which was used for centuries, is a unique thermal insulator, capable of withstanding very high temperatures without burning. In addition, some grades of asbestos fiber were woven into cloth.
The possible health problems from exposure to asbestos were not widely recognized sooner because of the slow progress of the disease and the inability to recognize it in its early stages. Asbestosis and mesothelioma are seldom manifested less than twenty years following exposure. The incubation period for these diseases is twenty to forty or more years.
Asbestos litigation is complex for several reasons. The cases involve numerous defendants of various types, who may be brought into the case on different theories of liability as discovery progresses; discovery is difficult, costly and time-consuming; and expert witnesses are used in the cases.
The first significant mass tort was the asbestos cases. Beginning in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the avalanche of personal injury and wrongful death claims raising from asbestos exposure began to engulf the New Jersey judicial system. This phenomena was simultaneously replayed in state and federal courts across the country. Plaintiffs in these cases contend they suffer from some form of asbestosis or cancer as a result of exposure to raw asbestos and/or finished products containing asbestos. Middlesex County is currently handling 92% of the State's asbestos matters. There are over 1,300 claims pending. These claims are currently assigned to the Hon. Ana Viscomi with the assistance of Special Master Agatha N. Dzikiewicz.