Tagging an expert as a "hired gun" can all but destroy the expert's credibility as a witness. Nowhere is this more of a concern than in asbestos litigation. The longest-running mass tort litigation in U.S. history, it has spawned an estimated 730,000 claims over more than 30 years - with 200,000 still active in the courts. As the number of claims grew, so too did the number of defendants and the industries they represent. From 300 asbestos defendants in 1982, the number has exploded to 8,400 today, representing virtually every major U.S. industry.
For the lawyers defending against these claims, this means an ever-narrowing field of experts upon which to draw. Such was the challenge delivered to IMS ExpertServices in three recent cases, when defense lawyers needed to locate asbestos experts well-qualified in specific industries but untarnished by prior testimony. With so many experts having already testified in so many cases, finding experts who met these requirements would be like searching for needles in the proverbial haystack.
The defense teams knew that the stakes could be staggering. The Rand Corporation estimates that asbestos litigation has so far cost businesses and insurers more than $70 billion. It has forced at least 70 companies into bankruptcy.
The lawyers also knew that finding the right experts could make all the difference for their clients, all major U.S. manufacturers. But with so immense a number of asbestos cases already having targeted so wide a range of industries, the lawyers believed that finding the right experts for their cases would be difficult.
Not only must these experts meet the usual requirements of knowledge and expertise, they also must have direct knowledge of the particular industries and a record clear of excessive testimony in other asbestos trials.
The Challenge to IMS
The defense teams came to IMS with this challenge: Find us experts who have in-depth knowledge of asbestos, inside knowledge of these industries and reputations untarnished by prior testimony.
IMS responded immediately, mobilizing teams of researchers and recruiters to search for experts who met the lawyers' requirements. IMS understood that, for experts to be taken seriously in these highly complex cases, they would need superior credentials and at least 20 to 25 years of experience in their fields.
But with so many experts having been retained in so many asbestos cases over so many years, it would be no easy task to find even a single expert who had the requisite experience but did not have a history of frequent testimony. Even more of a challenge would be finding such experts who also had the necessary industry savvy.
Unlike some expert firms, IMS does not rely on a stable of "usual-suspect" experts or a database of self-designated professional witnesses. It tailors each search precisely to match the client's specifications. A complex search can take great effort to complete, as these cases proved.
"Finding an expert in the field of vermiculite mining and asbestos, along with all our additional requirements in the same person, was a tall order. We needed a clean expert who really knew his stuff. When you begin peeling back the layers on most candidates, you almost invariably find a major flaw in their experience, communication skills, reputation, or any other number of gotchas, including conflicts."
Torsten Kracht, Senior Associate
Alston and Bird
IMS researchers and recruiters scoured all sources, dug deep to locate well qualified experts who met the requirements. In each case, the team's efforts led to success. In fact, for each case, IMS identified multiple experts who matched the defense lawyers' criteria. The lawyers retained several of the experts IMS located. They have since engaged IMS to locate and vet experts in other narrow categories of specialization.
"We don't take our work lightly," says Ted Gorder, IMS Vice President. "We do good, solid leg work. We don't give up. And when we find potential candidates we carefully vet them against the tight requirements of our client prior to presentation.