There were a number of trending online legal stories for the week ending March 18, so let's get to them.

There were a number of trending online legal stories for the week ending March 18, so let's get to them.

One of the biggest news stories of the past week was the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear crisis, and some legal issues have emerged – one of the most prominent being nuclear liability. According to The Wall Street Journal, nuclear liability laws in Japan typically hold the operators of nuclear power plants responsible for disasters, but if the incident is caused by a natural disaster the burden shifts to the taxpayers.

The news source reports that operators are responsible for liability “except in the case where the damage is caused by a grave natural disaster of an exceptional character.” A Columbia Law School professor told the news provider that if the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan last week didn't qualify under this definition “it makes you wonder if anything does.”

Nuclear operators in Japan are required to hold about $1.5 billion in insurance, but that typically does not include tsunamis and earthquakes. The Journal reports that the government will likely step in to cover loses beyond that amount.

Online searchers have been following the event's in Japan closely, with searches for “Japan nuclear crisis” peaking on Wednesday, March 16.

Shifting to the world of personal injury law, a jury in Newport News, Virginia, awarded a former shipyard worker $25 million from Exxon Mobil in a mesothelioma lawsuit. Over the course of his career Rubert “Bert” Minton worked on 17 Exxon Mobil oil tankers where he was routinely exposed to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that was used in the shipbuilding industry in part because of its resistance to fire. This exposure to asbestos caused Minton to develop mesothelioma, a rare cancer that attacks the thin membrane that lines the chest, lungs and many of the body's internal organs.

According to the Hampton Roads Daily Press, the $25 million award, which will be reduced to around $17.5 million because of Virginia laws, is one of the largest personal injury verdicts in state history. Internet users' interest in the case is made clear by the nearly 10,000 Google web results returned for the search phrase, “Exxon $25 million asbestos lawsuit.”

Meanwhile, in the sports world, jury selection is underway in Barry Bonds' BALCO steroids case. The New York Times reports that this will likely be a difficult process as many in the San Francisco area are still fans of the home run king. Searches for “Barry Bonds” peaked this week on Wednesday.

The baseball great will likely lead next week's top legal stories as his trial is slated to finally get underway.

That's the legal news for the week ending, March 18.