The Smoking Congresswoman and Her Asbestos Lawsuit

It’s not that I’m against all lawsuits. It’s just that the plaintiffs’ lawyers—and the judges who enable them—take things too far. So even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.

This morning let’s consider the strange case of Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York.

Sadly, McCarthy has lung cancer. The 69-year-old Democrat from Long Island took a leave from Congress in June to seek treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. I wish her the best, of course; lung cancer is a tough one.

McCarthy has decided to cash in on her unfortunate plight by putting herself in the hands of Weitz & Luxenberg. The New York law firm specializes in suing former manufacturers of products containing asbestos, a carcinogenic insulation material. Weitz & Luxenberg has filed suit on McCarthy’s behalf against more than 40 companies, alleging their actions contributed to her often-fatal disease. The suit, reported over the weekend by the New York Post, claims that McCarthy’s exposure as a child to asbestos helped make her sick. She never worked for the defendant companies, which include Goodyear Tire & Rubber, the Con Edison utility, and Pfizer. Instead, the suit alleges she was exposed to trace amounts of asbestos because her father and brothers worked as boilermakers in U.S. Navy yards and power plants.

The papers filed by Weitz & Luxenberg omit a relevant detail: McCarthy has smoked for some 40 years. “McCarthy is such an avid smoker,” according to the Post, “that she’s known around Capitol Hill for taking [cigarette] breaks between votes.”