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Coping with Insidious Injuries: The Case of Johns-Manville Corporation and Asbestos Exposure

Craig Calhoun and Henryk Hiller
Social Problems
Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr., 1988), pp. 162-181
DOI: 10.2307/800738
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/800738
Page Count: 20
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Coping with Insidious Injuries: The Case of Johns-Manville Corporation and Asbestos Exposure
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Abstract

Litigation involving the Johns-Manville Corporation and asbestos related diseases shows the complexity of dealing with the growing problem of insidious injuries. These are injuries, often large scale, in which the causes are rendered obscure by (a) a latency period, (b) manifestation only in a segment of the exposed population, (c) manifestation in heightened risk of diseases for which there are other causes, and/or (d) the social and spatial dispersion of the injured people. Powerful corporate actors like Johns-Manville are shown to be able to postpone and sometimes escape liability, but also to embody the potential capacity to pay compensation to victims of long-latent disease. Johns-Manville's bankruptcy reorganization was not a travesty of justice, as has been alleged, but a way of balancing the interests of present and future victims. A tension between goals of compensation and deterrence or punishment is revealed. We argue that minimizing insidious injuries depends less on punishment than on effective data collection, analysis, and public dissemination. Incentives are needed to make managers give early and full information about dangerous products and processes, but the threat of tort litigation can have the unintended consequence of leading managers to withhold information and assistance from victims for fear of lawsuits.

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