Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 8 (1999)

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Opinion of the Court

of Texas against a group of asbestos manufacturers. App. to Pet. for Cert. 252a. In the 1970's and 1980's, plaintiffs' lawyers throughout the country, particularly in East Texas, honed the litigation of asbestos claims to the point of almost mechanical regularity, improving the forensic identification of diseases caused by asbestos, refining theories of liability, and often settling large inventories of cases. See D. Hensler, W. Felstiner, M. Selvin, & P. Ebener, Asbestos in the Courts: The Challenge of Mass Toxic Torts vii (1985); McGovern, Resolving Mature Mass Tort Litigation, 69 B. U. L. Rev. 659, 660-661 (1989); see also App. to Pet. for Cert. 253a.

Respondent Fibreboard Corporation was a defendant in the 1967 action. Although it was primarily a timber company, from the 1920's through 1971 the company manufactured a variety of products containing asbestos, mainly for high-temperature industrial applications. As the tide of asbestos litigation rose, Fibreboard found itself litigating on two fronts. On one, plaintiffs were filing a stream of personal injury claims against it, swelling throughout the 1980's and 1990's to thousands of new claims for compensatory damages each year. Id., at 265a; App. 1040a. On the second front, Fibreboard was battling for funds to pay its tort claimants. From May 1957 through March 1959, respondent Continental Casualty Company had provided Fibreboard with a comprehensive general liability policy with limits of $1 million per occurrence, $500,000 per claim, and no aggregate limit. Fibreboard also claimed that respondent Pacific Indemnity Company had insured it from 1956 to 1957 under a similar policy. App. to Pet. for Cert. 267a-268a. Beginning in 1979, Fibreboard was locked in coverage litigation with Continental and Pacific in a California state trial court, which in 1990 held Continental and Pacific responsible for indemnification as to any claim by a claimant exposed to Fibreboard asbestos products prior to their policies' respective

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