OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Sick miners accuse insurers of delaying medical payments | Fast hits



Sick miners accuse insurer of delaying payments

BILLINGS — Lawyers for Montana miners sickened and killed by toxic asbestos exposure filed a lawsuit March 21 against Zurich American Insurance for allegedly delaying court settlements and medical payments after they submitted the workers’ claims to investors transmitted, who can benefit from the delays.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Great Falls on behalf of 17 former workers and representatives of 29 workers who died who developed lung cancer and other diseases after working in a WR Grace & Co. vermiculite mine in Libby in the 1960s and 1970s exposed to asbestos, Montana.

The legal battle over responsibility for their plight dates back two decades, when news of sick and dying miners and local residents in the remote mountain area triggered an emergency cleanup by federal agencies. This cleanup is ongoing and the contamination has been blamed for hundreds of deaths among miners, their families and others.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that insurer Maryland Casualty Co. — now owned by Zurich — should have warned workers about small fibers of asbestos in vermiculite dust, which can be easily inhaled and damage a person’s lungs.

But rather than resolve the many remaining liability cases still pending against them, Zurich has paid to transfer at least some of the workers’ claims to investors, said Allan McGarvey, a workers’ attorney. According to McGarvey and the lawsuit, the investors, including Enstar Group Ltd., can keep that money and benefit even if workers’ health continues to deteriorate.

Zurich is part of the Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance Group, which operates worldwide. Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said Zurich had not commented on Monday’s lawsuit.

A former Libby miner with lung disease who now lives in Oregon was awarded $36.5 million by a Montana jury in one of Zurich’s lawsuits in February.


Hospital is closed due to protest call

BOISE — A major Boise hospital was locked down for about an hour March 15 after far-right activist Ammon Bundy urged supporters to visit the facility in protest of a child protection case involving one of his family friends.

The St. Luke health system locked down Boise Medical Center and began rerouting incoming patients around 1:30 p.m. on March 15.

“Safety is our top priority,” the hospital said in a statement. “At this point, everyone who needs care should be looking at alternative healthcare providers and options. We are asking people to avoid the area near Boise Hospital until further notice.”

Several Idaho State Police and Boise Police Department police cars drove to the hospital for the protest.

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A few dozen protesters positioned themselves in front of various hospital doors and buildings, with some speculating on social media about whether the facility could be accessed via underground tunnels. For the most part, however, protesters appeared to remain on sidewalks and the lockdown was lifted just before 3pm

Earlier in the day, Bundy released a statement on YouTube warning that “patriotic groups” would take action if an acquaintance’s young child was not returned to the family after a hearing that afternoon.

The baby was temporarily removed from family care four days earlier after officials determined the 10-month-old was “suffering from severe malnutrition” and was at risk of injury or death, according to a police statement in the city of Meridian in near Boise.

Bundy, who is known for taking part in armed confrontations with law enforcement, was arrested the following day for trespassing after protesting at another hospital where he believed the baby was being treated.

Bundy, who is running as an independent candidate in a crowded race for Idaho’s next governor, did not attend the protest himself. He was at the Ada County Courthouse all day, standing trial on charges of trespassing and resisting or obstructing officers in connection with an incident last year in which he showed up at the Idaho Statehouse, though he is pending a previous trespassing arrest had been banned from the building.


Anti-Bias Regulation passed in final reading

CHEYENNE — The Cheyenne City Council voted March 14 for the final reading of an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to intimidate or maliciously harass anyone based on personal bias.

The ordinance passed 8-1, with Councilwoman Michelle Aldrich having the lone vote against.

Aldrich has always been the only Council member to hold out on the ordinance. She reiterated her opposition during the March 14 meeting, saying that she agreed with the intent of the regulation but that it was “a really badly written piece of legislation”.

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The councilwoman has also repeatedly expressed concern that the council would pass the ordinance, patting itself on the back and not having further talks about harassment and discrimination in the community, which some say are increasing.

Also at the meeting, Aldrich clarified a comment she made during a March 9 interview with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. She apologized for implying that her peers were afraid to vote against the ordinance for fear of being labeled homophobic or racist, adding that she was speaking on general grounds and not speaking about anyone specifically.


The real estate market in Albuquerque hits record highs and lows

ALBUQUERQUE — The average selling price for a detached single-family home in Albuquerque hit an all-time high, while the home inventory hit an all-time low.

According to a February 2022 report by the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors, the median home price was $367,566. The median selling price was $315,000, matching the record set in December. Both averages showed an 18% increase over the previous year.

Additionally, the inventory of single-family homes for sale in Albuquerque hit a record low of 540 in February, according to the report, down nearly 40% year over year. And it breaks the previous record set in December 2021.

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Home construction has also slowed as supply chain issues affect schedules, said Steve Duran, a local real estate agent at eXp Realty.

Duran said an influx of remote workers, retirees and investors have identified Albuquerque as a “hidden gem” with real estate prices still below the national average. The market is so hot that buyers are paying up to 25% over list price, Duran said.


Music Hall is to be named after local daughter Linda Ronstadt

TUCSON — Tucson Music Hall will be renamed in honor of Linda Ronstadt, a southern Arizona native who went on to become a Grammy-winning superstar, Mayor Regina Romero announced March 18.

One of the top performers of the 1970s and a popular singer well into the 21st century, Ronstadt racked up nearly a dozen Grammys in categories including country, pop, Latin and children’s music. She stopped singing in 2009 when Parkinson’s disease robbed her of her singing voice.

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Ronstadt broke onto the music scene in 1967 as the lead singer of the Stone Poneys, a country folk trio that included two of her friends from the University of Arizona at Tucson. She later found success as a solo artist in a variety of genres ranging from rock to Mexican ranchera.

She was influenced by the Mexican music she grew up listening to in Tucson as a child.

The venue will be officially rebranded on May 7th during the Espectacular Concert of the International Mariachi Conference. Romero’s office said Ronstadt is expected to be in Tucson to unveil new signs bearing her name.

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