HELENA (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has ordered the creation of a special court to oversee hundreds of claims filed on behalf of people who became ill or died following exposure to asbestos from a W.R. Grace mine in northwestern Montana.

About 600 cases pending and Grace’s bankruptcy proceedings complete, justices said there was sufficient need to create the Asbestos Claims Court under an act passed by lawmakers in 2001.

The court appointed District Judge Amy Eddy of Kalispell to oversee pretrial proceedings and set trial management plans.

Defendants include the state of Montana, BNSF Railway, International Paper Co., an insulation company and an insurance company.

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Health officials say asbestos-containing vermiculite and products made from it have killed hundreds of people and sickened thousands in the Libby area.

The order establishing the court states:

In the aftermath of the W.R. Grace federal bankruptcy proceedings, the Court Administrator for the State of Montana Judicial Branch has identified at least 540 pending asbestos claim cases in the district courts. Considering that and other circumstances, this Court has determined there exists sufficient need to implement the provisions of the Asbestos Claims Court Act codified at §§ 3-20-101 through -105, MCA. In particular, the Court has considered the need of all parties to have asbestos-related claims timely resolved, the extraordinary complexity and cost of these cases, and the enormous detrimental impact on the resources of Montana district courts if required to litigate these cases on an individual basis. ACCORDINGLY, THE COURT HEREBY ESTABLISHES THE ASBESTOS CLAIMS COURT

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