SAN FRANCISCO — Superior Court Judge Ira A. Brown Jr.'s ruling that favors asbestos manufacturers over their insurance companies will leave the insurers battling among themselves over who should pick up the multibillion-dollar tab in asbestos liability cases.
"It is still a big mess," one insurance company lawyer said after Friday's decision.
Asbestos manufacturing has spanned decades, and most of the asbestos companies have had many different insurers over the years. In addition, it is customary for one insurance company to pass along portions of its risk to other companies, known as re-insurers.
The result is a gigantic legal tangle in which insurance company defendants have filed dozens of cross-complaints against one another.
"The only position that each insurance carrier can agree upon," a Pennsylvania state court noted wryly in a 1983 decision, "is that there is no coverage during its particular policy period."
About 40 of the original 70 insurance company defendants have settled out of court with asbestos manufacturers.
Lawyers said the major remaining defendants include INA; Aetna Life & Casualty; Commercial Union Insurance; Reliance Insurance Group; American Insurance Group; Home Insurance; Travelers Insurance Co.; First State Insurance Co. and Continental Casualty. In addition, several Lloyds of London syndicates remain defendants in the case.