Sick Mine Workers Allege Insurer Delays Medical Payments | Montana News

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press

Lawyers for Montana miners sick and killed by toxic asbestos exposure filed a lawsuit Monday against Zurich American Insurance for allegedly blocking legal settlements and medical payments after shifting workers’ claims to investors who can profit delays.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Great Falls on behalf of 17 former workers and representatives of 29 deceased workers who developed lung cancer and other illnesses from exposure to asbestos in the 1960s and 1970s at a WR Grace & Co. vermiculite mine in Libby. , Montana.

The legal dispute over responsibility for their suffering dates back two decades, when news reports of sick and dying miners and residents of the remote mountainous region sparked an emergency cleanup by federal authorities. This cleanup is ongoing and the contamination is responsible for hundreds of deaths among miners, their families and others in the region near the Canada-US border.

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In 2020, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that insurer Maryland Casualty Co. – now Zurich-owned – should have warned workers about the small asbestos fibers in vermiculite dust that can be easily inhaled and damage the lungs. of somebody. Maryland Casualty provided workers’ compensation coverage to the now-closed WR Grace mine.

But rather than attempt to resolve the numerous liability cases still pending against it, Zurich paid to transfer at least some of the workers’ claims to investors, said Allan McGarvey, a workers’ attorney. Investors, including Enstar Group Ltd., can keep that money and profit from it even if workers’ health deteriorates further, according to McGarvey and the lawsuit.

“They’re making huge amounts of money on the money that should be paid out to plaintiffs,” McGarvey said. “They are literally investing in human suffering.”

Zurich is part of the Zurich Insurance Group, based in Switzerland, which operates worldwide. Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said Zurich had no comment on Monday’s legal complaint.

A person who answered the phone at Enstar Group in Bermuda referred questions to the company’s office in the United States, where phone messages seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would prevent any third-party influence on the mine workers’ claims and force Zurich to pay medical, palliative care and other costs for the workers’ illnesses.

The workers and heirs named as plaintiffs in the case are among hundreds of people with pending lawsuits against Zurich for its responsibility in the city.

A former Libby mine worker with lung disease now living in Oregon was awarded $36.5 million in February by a Montana jury in one of the lawsuits against Zurich.

McGarvey acknowledged that no Montana law specifically prevents an entity from acquiring legal liability from someone else and then profiting from late payments. But he said it undermined rules meant to compel insurance companies to act in good faith.

“It is certain that investors should not be able to delay settlements,” he said.

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