March 25, 2019

Embattled Gasket Maker Sues Asbestos Lawyers For Fraud

Asbestos lungs

Whose asbestos did this? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gasket manufacturer Garlock Technologies has sued four prominent asbestos law firms for fraud as it awaits a bankruptcy judge’s decision on how much money the company must set aside to settle thousands of claims against it.

The company says the law firms sued it on behalf of clients who had already made conflicting claims about their asbestos exposure against other companies.

The complaints “allege that these firms concealed evidence about their clients’ exposure to asbestos products and concealed it in litigation against” Garlock, said Don Washington, a spokesman for Garlock parent EnPro Industries. “In essence they double-dipped.”

Named in the lawsuits are: Belluck & Fox and Shein Law Center in Philadelphia; and Simon Greenstone and Waters & Krause in Dallas. Waters & Krause, in a statement, said the lawsuit against it “represents just the latest in a series of actions by Garlock to avoid being held accountable for helping to cause the deaths of thousands of Navy veterans and others from the asbestos found in the company’s products.”

Garlock entered bankruptcy in 2010 after its cost of settling asbestos suits skyrocketed from $5,000 per claim past $70,000, in a familiar cycle as other defendants went bankrupt and lawyers escalated their demands against the few remaining solvent manufacturers. Garlock says it owes plaintiffs nothing because its products contained small amounts of a less dangerous form of asbestos; plaintiff lawyers have suggested the firm owes $1.4 billion. EnPro has said it believes the bankruptcy shields the parent company from asbestos against Garlock division.

Garlock has fought to make evidence of fraud public, but U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges in Charlotte, N.C. has refused. Hodges even ejected reporters from his courtroom during proceedings this summer in which Garlock’s lawyers presented evidence that plaintiffs making claims against it had denied its products caused their illness when suing other companies. Hodges agreed with plaintiff lawyers that those claims were confidential medical records. To comply with the judge’s rulings, Garlock filed the lawsuits late yesterday under seal.

EnPro said yesterday it expects Judge Hodges to release his opinion estimating its liability after 4 p.m. today.

By suing the asbestos lawyers who are suing it, Garlock is following in the steps of CSX, which in 2012 won a $429,000 fraud verdict against Pittsburgh lawyers Robert Peirce and Louis Raimond after uncovering evidence the lawyers had used phony diagnoses from discredited Dr. Ray Harron to fabricate asbestos cases against the railroad. Evidence in that case included internal memos suggesting the lawyers knew Harron was “very, very liberal” with his diagnoses, but, Peirce said in one letter, “even a disputed diagnosis case has some value.”

The lawyers also hired an unlicensed tech to run a mobile X-ray screening program, and let a doctor use an automatic signature stamp to sign medical reports.

It isn’t clear what’s in the complaints Garlock filed under seal, but attorney Samuel Tarry with McGuire Woods in Richmond, who represented CSX, told me fake diagnoses lie at the core of most such cases.

“If we’re going to see more of this litigation it’s because there are unfortunately still doctors who are willing to say whatever lawyers ask them to say,” said Tarry, who declined to comment directly on the CSX case because it is on appeal.

Garlock previously accused another law firm of fraud for making conflicting stories about how its client was exposed to asbestos. Plaintiff lawyers accused the company of trying to game its bankruptcy by disrupting long-settled methods of assessing liability based upon previous court verdicts.

Pursuing law firms for fraud is difficult because plaintiff lawyers try to shield all of their documents under the attorney-client privilege.

“It’s a challenge to prove intent unless you have smoking-gun documents,” Tarry said.

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Embattled Gasket Maker Sues Asbestos Lawyers For Fraud

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