February 18, 2019

If You Were Exposed to, or Harmed by, ASBESTOS or ASBESTOS-CONTAINING Products Made, Distributed or Sold by THE …

WILMINGTON, Del. , March 31, 2015 /CNW/ — The following statement is being issued regarding In re The Flintkote Company and Flintkote Mines Limited, Case No. 04-11300 (MFW) (Jointly Administered).

TYPES OF PRODUCTS: During the 1930s to the 1980s, some products sold by The Flintkote Company and Flintkote Mines Limited (the “Debtors“) contained asbestos. These products could have included floor tile, roofing shingles, joint compound, fiber pipe, liquid products, cement board, cement siding, cement pipe, asphalt and other products.

Persons or entities exposed to, or harmed by, the Debtors’ asbestos or asbestos-containing products may have personal injury, wrongful death or other claims against the Debtors.  You do not need to (i) have been diagnosed, (ii) have symptoms, or (iii) be impaired to be affected by the Plan (defined below).

If you believe you may have been exposed to, or harmed by the Debtors’ products, you may be entitled to vote on confirmation of the Plan.  You should carefully read this notice and the important documents located at http://www.flintkotebankruptcy.com.

PLAN OF REORGANIZATION: The Debtors filed for bankruptcy in 2004. On February 9, 2015 , the Debtors filed a modified joint plan of reorganization (the “Plan“) with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (the “Bankruptcy Court“).  The Plan includes the terms of a settlement reached between the Debtors and their former indirect parent company, Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited (“ITCAN“). The Plan has been jointly proposed by the Debtors, the Asbestos Claimants Committee and the Future Claimants Representative (collectively, the “Plan Proponents“).  As background, the Plan is a modified version of a bankruptcy plan on which Debtors previously solicited votes in 2008 and 2009, and which was confirmed by the Bankruptcy Court on December 21, 2012 (the “Prior Plan“).

A document describing how the Plan differs from the Prior Plan (the “Disclosure Statement Supplement“), which the Bankruptcy Court approved on March 17, 2015 , a copy of the Plan itself and related voting materials (a “Resolicitation Package“), has been mailed to known holders of claims against the Debtors or the claimants’ lawyers.

THE TRUST: The Plan provides for a trust to be established to pay eligible asbestos personal injury claims against the Debtors (the “Trust“). The Plan provides that all current and future holders of asbestos personal injury claims will be forever prohibited from asserting claims directly against the Debtors and other parties protected under the Plan, including ITCAN.  Such claimants can receive money only from the Trust. The Plan and the Disclosure Statement Supplement contain important additional details and are available at http://www.flintkotebankruptcy.com.

SUPPLEMENTAL SETTLEMENT BAR ORDER: Under the Plan, ITCAN will also obtain protection from certain claims by a settlement bar order, which is described more particularly in the Plan and Disclosure Statement Supplement.

VOTING PROCEDURES: The Bankruptcy Court has issued an order describing who can vote on the Plan, how to vote, and how votes will be counted. The Disclosure Statement Supplement has information that will help you decide whether and how to vote on the Plan if you are entitled to do so.  Votes cast on the Prior Plan will be counted as votes on the Plan, unless a holder changes such vote. If you voted on the Prior Plan and do not wish to change your vote, you do not need to submit a ballot.  If you did not vote on the Prior Plan, you may obtain and cast a ballot, which would be subject to the Plan Proponents’ right to object. To be counted, a completed ballot must be received by the Voting Agent at the address below by 4:00 p.m. (prevailing Eastern time) on June 2 , 2015.  Any ballot received after that deadline will not be counted.

Proof of an asbestos personal injury or wrongful death claim does not need to be filed with the Bankruptcy Court. Special procedures have been established for holders of asbestos personal injury and wrongful death claims to vote on the Plan. Lawyers for holders of these claims may vote on the Plan on behalf of their clients if authorized by their client. If you are unsure whether your lawyer is authorized to vote on your behalf, please contact your lawyer.

THE HEARING TO CONFIRM THE PLAN: A hearing to confirm the Plan will be held before the Honorable Mary F. Walrath, United States Bankruptcy Judge, at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware , 824 Market Street, 5th Floor, Wilmington, Delaware 19801, commencing on August 10, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. (prevailing Eastern time).

OBJECTING TO THE PLAN: Parties may only object to the changes between the Prior Plan and the Plan, and objections must be submitted in writing and received by July 8, 2015 to be considered.  All objections must comply with the requirements in the notice of the Confirmation Hearing, available at http://www.flintkotebankruptcy.com.

HOW TO OBTAIN DOCUMENTS: If you would like additional information about the Plan, Disclosure Statement Supplement and other Trust-related documents (including copies of the Plan, Disclosure Statement Supplement and other Trust-related documents), you may contact the Debtors’ Voting Agent at (800) 290-0537, visit http://www.flintkotebankruptcy.com, or write to The Flintkote Company and Flintkote Mines Limited, c/o GCG, P.O. Box 10127, Dublin, Ohio 43017-3127.


To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/if-you-were-exposed-to-or-harmed-by-asbestos-or-asbestos-containing-products-made-distributed-or-sold-by-the-flintkote-company-or-flintkote-mines-limited-please-read-this-notice-of-voting-rights-and-hearing-to-consider-whether-300057267.html



Christina Craige, Sidley Austin LLP, 213-896-6000

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If You Were Exposed to, or Harmed by, ASBESTOS or ASBESTOS-CONTAINING Products Made, Distributed or Sold by THE …

Insurer Claims Asbestos Fraud Tainted Pittsburgh Corning Bankruptcy

An insurer that was required to help fund the $3 billion bankruptcy of Pittsburgh Corning Corning has filed court papers seeking the case to be reopened, saying “pervasive fraudulent conduct” by asbestos plaintiff lawyers tainted the proceedings.

The filing by Everest Re and its Mt. McKinley Insurance unit follows the opening of millions of pages of documents in the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy, which revealed how lawyers representing asbestos plaintiffs deliberately delayed filing claims against bankrupt companies until they had completed cases against solvent ones, in order to avoid cluttering the record with potential evidence of exposure to other firms’ products.

Everest is among the insurers ordered to pay $1.7 billion into the bankruptcy trust formed to settle claims against Pittsburgh Corning, a joint venture of PPG Industries PPG Industries and Corning that made asbestos insulation widely used in ships, refineries and other industrial settings. A judge approved the bankruptcy plan in 2013 and last year a federal district court judge rejected Everest’s challenge to the plan.

Everest’s claims mirror the findings of the bankruptcy judge who slashed Garlock’s estimated asbestos liability from $1.3 billion to $125 million last year after a detailed examination of 15 claims by several different law firms revealed every single one had withheld information about alternative exposures in order to mount a stronger case against Garlock. In that case, Judge George R. Hodges said the evidence suggested a process “infected by the manipulation of exposure evidence by plaintiffs and their lawyers.”

In its filing, Everest accuses several law firms by name of manipulating or hiding evidence including Waters Waters & Kraus of Dallas, New York’s Belluck & Fox Fox, and Motley Rice, the South Carolina firm most famous for helping to engineer the $200 billion master tobacco settlement with state attorneys general in 1998. Some of those same firms are being sued by Garlock for civil racketeering for allegedly withholding evidence to drive up settlement values.

The lawyers say the accusations against them are baseless. Under the terms of most bankruptcy trusts, which are set up and overseen by plaintiff lawyers, evidence of asbestos exposure can be as simple as a work history at a site where asbestos was known to be used. They say companies like Garlock made a business decision to settle lawsuits, frequently in bulk, in order to avoid the cost of litigation. It’s not the job of plaintiff lawyers to help them obtain evidence to reduce the value of those claims, those lawyers say; if manufacturers wanted evidence of other exposures, they could have questioned coworkers or used shipping records and other documents to show the presence of insulation, for example, which most independent medical experts say is far more dangerous than other forms of the mineral.

Garlock was able to question some of the lawyers under oath, however, and got revealing admissions about how lawyers delayed filing trust claims until after they’d concluded cases against solvent companies. In its filing, Everest cites a few examples, including that of Robert Treggett, a Waters & Kraus client who won a $24 million jury verdict against Garlock after a trial in which his attorneys repeatedly deflected questions about whether Treggett had been exposed to dangerous Unibestos insulation.

Garlock “didn’t bring proof that there was Unibestos on that ship. They couldn’t. It’s not true,” Treggett’s attorney said in closing arguments, and he was able to keep Unibestos off the jury form. Yet Treggett filed a claim in the PPG bankruptcy, attesting to the same exposure he’d denied at trial.

See the article here – 

Insurer Claims Asbestos Fraud Tainted Pittsburgh Corning Bankruptcy

A Stubborn Manufacturer Exposes The Asbestos Blame Game

In a quiet bankruptcy court in Charlotte, N.C., closed to all but court personnel and people who’d signed strict confidentiality orders, attorney Garland Cassada laid out the inner workings of one of the longest-running and most lucrative schemes in the American litigation business.

Arguing for a manufacturer of asbestos gaskets named Garlock Sealing Technologies, Cassada explained how lawyers had tailored the testimony of their clients to minimize their exposure to more dangerous products, thus making Garlock seem more liable than it really was.

Cassada’s evidence for this scheme came from the mouths of the asbestos lawyers themselves. In an unprecedented move Garlock had persuaded U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges to allow it to dig into case files and question the lawyers who’d helped drive the company into bankruptcy.

EnPro's Steve Macadam: This is ridiculous.

EnPro’s Steve Macadam: This is ridiculous. (Photo credit: David Smith for Forbes)

That led to revealing disclosures like that of Benjamin Shein, a prominent Philadelphia asbestos attorney whose firm had settled the case of a former shipyard worker named Vincent Golini against then-solvent Garlock in 2009.

Golini was dying of the excruciating, asbestos-linked cancer known as mesothelioma when he sued Garlock and testified that he couldn’t recall working with other, more common and more hazardous products like Owens Corning’s Owens Corning’s Kaylo pipe insulation or EaglePicher asbestos cement. As soon as he settled, however, Golini’s lawyers filed claims against those precise companies based on affidavits they’d drawn up before Golini professed ignorance of their products.

“Our goal is to maximize a client’s recovery, okay, and in order to do that, what we focus on for the deposition is the viable, nonbankrupt companies,” said Shein in his own deposition. “That’s our job, okay?”

And had the asbestos lawyers prevailed, Shein’s efforts and Golini’s multiple filings would have remained secret. But thanks to Garlock’s persistence (and a successful lawsuit by Legal Newsline, a U.S. Chamber-funded publication seeking release of sealed court documents) the evidence has come spilling out. That evidence could be the biggest turning point in the decades-long multibillion-dollar battle over who will pay for asbestos cleanup across the U.S. Garlock is suing Shein and lawyers at five other firms for racketeering and fraud over their asbestos litigation. Shein’s lawyer, Daniel Brier, says that “Ben Shein is a zealous advocate for his clients” and the lawsuit has no merit.

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A Stubborn Manufacturer Exposes The Asbestos Blame Game

Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm accused of exploiting its connection to Sheldon Silver in New York City’s asbestos court, has come under fire in another lucrative arena — multibillion-dollar bankruptcy trusts.

The East Village firm, which gained more than 100 mesothelioma clients in an alleged kickback scheme by the disgraced assemblyman, sits on 15 advisory committees for trusts set up by bankrupt companies to compensate victims — including Weitz’s own clients.

The loose system fosters a “fox guarding the hen house” culture, says a article published last month by Measley’s Asbestos Bankruptcy Report.

Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver

The 15 trusts guided by Weitz have paid out $12.2 billion between 2006 and 2013. Other trusts, which may also pay Weitz clients, have doled out $51.6 billion, the report says. Lawyers typically get at least 25 percent of the payments.

It’s unknown how many Weitz clients got payments — or whether any were funneled through Silver.

Perry Weitz, a partner in the firm, helped set up trusts for major companies such as Owens Corning, USG, and Kaiser Aluminum, his Web site boasts.

Trusts for asbestos-injured workers — who can file claims and also take active companies to court — still hold about $30 billion.

The system is rife with double-dipping abuse. Lawyers file trust claims blaming a client’s asbestos illness on bankrupt companies, but often hide those claims in lawsuits blaming active companies for the same illness.

For instance, Weitz & Luxenberg won a $25 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler in 2006 in a special Manhattan asbestos court where the firm files 50 to 70 percent of the cases.

At trial, Weitz shot down defense arguments that bankrupt Johns Manville, which made insulation and roofing, shared some blame for the worker’s exposure. “How should they be responsible?” the firm asked.

But a year after the trial, Weitz filed trust claims for the same client seeking payments from Johns Manville.

A Weitz spokesman said the firm had no comment.

In 2011, Weitz asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler to drop a requirement that plaintiffs disclose before trial any trust claims they had filed or intended to file.

Heitler, who was replaced as chief asbestos judge last week, denied the motion, but tweaked the rule, saying lawyers did not have to reveal trust claims “they may or may not anticipate filing.”

Her wording left wiggle room for potential fraud, Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman told The Post. Brickman, a leading expert on asbestos litigation, testified before Congress lastmonth in favor of a bill to curb the double dealing.

After Silver’s indictment last month, Weitz & Luxenberg claimed it was “shocked” that the former Assembly speaker had steered $500,000 in state grants to Columbia-Presbyterian mesothelioma researcher Dr. Robert Taub, who in turn referred the 100-plus patients.

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Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

RPM reaches $797.5 million deal to resolve Bondex asbestos claims

By Tom Hals

July 28 (Reuters) – Rust-Oleum paint maker RPM International Inc on Monday announced a $797.5 million deal to resolve asbestos claims against its Bondex International Inc unit, which filed for protection from creditors in 2010 after mounting personal injury lawsuits.

If the agreement receives court approval, it would end a contentious Chapter 11 bankruptcy in which a judge ruled Bondex should pay about $1.2 billion to resolve asbestos claims. Bondex, which had said it should only pay $135 million, was appealing the ruling.

RPM shares were up 2.8 percent at $45.64 in afternoon New York Stock Exchange trading.

Under the agreement, RPM will provide an initial $450 million in cash to a trust once the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the U.S. District Court in Delaware approve a reorganization plan for Bondex.

RPM, which also makes DAP caulk, would contribute the remaining $347.5 million in cash, stock or a combination of the two within four years after the trust has been established.

All current and future asbestos claims against Bondex and related entities would then be channeled to the trust, according to a Monday statement by Medina, Ohio-based RPM.

Bondex and another RPM unit, Specialty Products Holding Co, filed for bankruptcy in May 2010 in the wake of lawsuits over its asbestos-containing products such as joint compound, which is used in filling drywall gaps.

Bondex and personal injury lawyers clashed over how much money was needed to fund a trust to resolve the asbestos claims.

The lawyers said $1.255 billion was an appropriate amount based on what Bondex paid in past settlements.

Bondex said its liability could not be determined by looking to past settlements because those deals included payments to rid itself of nuisance lawsuits. Without those nuisance payments, the company said, its asbestos liability would have been about $135 million.

Former U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Judith Fitzgerald rejected that argument. She retired shortly after issuing the opinion in May 2013, and Judge Peter Walsh is now overseeing the case.

Monday’s agreement, if the courts approve it, would head off a federal appeals court’s potentially binding ruling on Bondex’s approach to estimating liability.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can cause deadly cancers, including mesothelioma. Scores of companies have filed for bankruptcy and collectively paid tens of billions of dollars to set up trusts to resolve personal injury lawsuits involving asbestos.

RPM said it expected the contributions to the trust to be tax-deductible, and it estimated the after-tax net present value of its contributions at about $485 million.

The case is Special Products Holding Corp, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 10-11780.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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RPM reaches $797.5 million deal to resolve Bondex asbestos claims

U.S. Chamber Commends Senate Introduction of Asbestos Trust Transparency Legislation


Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), made the following statement regarding the introduction of the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2014” (S. 2319) yesterday in the U.S. Senate. The legislation would require asbestos personal injury settlement trusts, which currently operate with little oversight and transparency, to report on their claims.

“We applaud Senator Flake’s effort to shed light on the growing number of bankruptcy trusts that play a significant role in today’s asbestos compensation system. Fraud and abuse in the system drain the funds available to deserving claimants and force solvent companies, as well as their shareholders and employees, to pay more than their fair share when claimants ‘double dip’ in court and in the trust systems. The FACT Act would diminish the damaging economic ripple effect of these abuses.

“The Senate should act to ensure that the asbestos compensation system is working as intended — especially in light of a federal court opinion last January in the Garlock asbestos bankruptcy that revealed manipulation and withholding evidence are a ‘regular practice by many plaintiffs’ firms.’ The FACT Act’s simple disclosure requirement will deter such fraud without impacting legitimate asbestos claims.”

ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.

www.uschamber.com        @USChamber        www.freeenterprise.com


U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
Justin Hakes, 202-463-3156

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U.S. Chamber Commends Senate Introduction of Asbestos Trust Transparency Legislation

Secrecy Crumbling As Judge Gives Ford, Insurers Access To Asbestos Files

The wall of secrecy plaintiff attorneys have erected around asbestos claims has begun to crumble, as a judge in North Carolina granted Ford Motor Ford Motor Co.’s request to see forms filed in a prominent bankruptcy case as a way to ferret out suspected fraud and double-dipping.

In an order today, Judge George R. Hodges rejected efforts by plaintiff attorneys to keep the documents in the Garlock Sealing Products bankruptcy sealed, saying the so-called Rule 2019 filings are “public records available for examination.” Ford was joined by Volkswagen, Honeywell, Crane, and AIG and two other insurers in seeking the records, which those companies say may show that people who sued them for asbestos exposure made conflicting claims about how they were exposed when seeking money from the bankruptcy trusts.

The order represents a breakthrough for solvent companies that complain they are the victims of a one-two strategy where plaintiff lawyers craft lawsuits accusing them of causing their clients’ asbestos disease, then make completely different claims to trusts set up by companies that were driven into bankruptcy over asbestos liability. As more and more companies enter bankruptcy, plaintiff lawyers have targeted companies like Ford and Volkswagen with questionable allegations that previously wouldn’t have carried much weight in court, or been worth much in settlement negotiations.

Plaintiff lawyers target car manufacturers because they sold vehicles with brake pads containing asbestos. Epidemiological studies have failed to show that car mechanics have higher levels of mesothelioma, the cancer most closely associated with asbestos exposure, so Ford has an interest in showing that plaintiffs suing it for such cancers have claimed exposure to more dangerous substances elsewhere.

Insurers also want access to the records to pursue subrogation claims against people who collected settlements for asbestos-related disease while also tapping insurance policies to pay the medical costs associated with it.

English: Ford Mustang GT (racing GT car). Speeding to the courthouse for asbestos records? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his order, Hodges granted Ford and the other companies access to the claims plaintiffs made against Garlock, including names and the last four digits of the plaintiffs’ social security numbers. He denied access to the retention agreements with their lawyers, which may show questionable fee-splitting arrangements but also could be covered by the attorney-client privilege.

The ruling is a defeat for plaintiff lawyers who argued that the filings with bankruptcy trusts weren’t public documents or contained confidential information.

Normally 2019 filings are public like any other judicial record, but asbestos lawyers in the early 2000s convinced judges to seal their filings for a variety of reasons. Chief among them: The records might reveal confidential “commercial information,” such as fee arrangements, that would hurt their business. Not only would potential clients be able to play one law firm off against another for lower fees, but the records might reveal fee-splitting arrangements that violate ethics rules in most states. Lawyers are not supposed to get fees for referring clients unless they do significant legal work on the case, but the practice is common in the industry where lawyers draw in clients with TV and Internet ads and then hand them off to firms that focus on litigation and settlement.

The lawyers also said the filings contained confidential medical information, but that argument is undermined by the fact they freely supplied the information for years before seeking to seal 2019 records, and plaintiffs must make all the same information public when they sue. Manufacturers and insurers got additional help last month after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will consider any appeals in the Garlock case, ordered records in a federal consumer safety investigation unsealed.

Not many people asked for 2019 files until Garlock was driven into bankruptcy in 2010 by the escalating demands of asbestos plaintiff lawyers. The company had been settling asbestos claims for small amounts for years because its products contained a type of asbestos believed to be 1/1000th as dangerous as the long-fiber amphibole asbestos in insulation, and it was sealed in plastic. A plaintiff who took such a case to trial would have a hard time establishing the legal level of proof to win any damages. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a $500,000 jury verdict against Garlock on this basis in 2011, saying that to blame a pipefitter’s mesothelioma on Garlock gaskets would “be akin to saying that one who pours a bucket of water into the ocean has substantially contributed to the ocean’s volume.”

By gaining access to Garlock’s files, companies like Ford will have more ammunition to mount similar defenses against asbestos claims. Garlock also has records of claims filed with trusts established by other bankrupt companies but people close to the case told me there will likely be more litigation over whether they are public records available for examination.

Garlock’s bankruptcy involves most of the major asbestos law firms and probably contains a significant percentage of the active asbestos plaintiffs in the U.S. The documents therefore could provide a valuable database for defendant companies to match up plaintiffs against their claims in multiple venues.

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Secrecy Crumbling As Judge Gives Ford, Insurers Access To Asbestos Files

Ford Seeks Garlock Bankruptcy Information To Fight Its Own Asbestos Suits

Ford Motor Ford Motor Co. has filed a motion to unseal the records in the Garlock bankruptcy case, hoping to obtain evidence it needs to derail asbestos lawsuits against itself.

In a motion and accompanying memorandum of law filed with the federal bankruptcy court in Charlotte, N.C. late Friday, Ford is seeking access to sealed testimony and exhibits that Judge George R. Hodges relied upon to conclude that plaintiff lawyers had withheld evidence their clients had made conflicting statements about their asbestos exposure to different courts and bankruptcy trusts set up to pay claimants.

Ford, like many manufacturers, has been named in thousands of lawsuits as plaintiff lawyers mount an aggressive search for solvent defendants to sue, after most of the companies that made and sold dangerous asbestos products like pipe insulation have filed for bankruptcy protection to settle claims. Plaintiff lawyers target car manufacturers because they sold vehicles with brake pads containing asbestos. Epidemiological studies have failed to show that car mechanics have higher levels of mesothelioma, the cancer most closely associated with asbestos exposure, so Ford has an interest in showing that plaintiffs suing it for such cancers have claimed exposure to more dangerous substances elsewhere.

In his January ruling slashing Garlock’s asbest0s-related liabilities to $125 million, Hodges cited the results of an examination of 15 plaintiff files which found that lawyers had withheld potentially important evidence of asbestos exposure from each of them. The judge stopped just short of calling the activity fraudulent, but said the process “was infected by the manipulation of exposure evidence by plaintiffs and their lawyers.”

Such manipulation is possible because plaintiff lawyers largely control the trusts asbestos manufacturers set up to pay claims, and those lawyers have maintained a system of confidentiality that allows them to tap numerous trusts, often with conflicting stories about how their clients got sick, without fear of having anybody match those claims up against each other. The secrecy also allows them to file lawsuits against solvent companies first and negotiate larger settlements than they otherwise might obtain by failing to acknowledge the more serious exposures their clients will later allege against the bankruptcy trusts.

In the memorandum, Ford says it has been a co-defendant with Garlock, which made asbestos-containing gaskets, in numerous lawsuits. It said it suspects it has been induced to pay out more than it should “in reliance upon similar misrepresentations of asbestos exposures and asbestos trust claims.” It said it believes there is evidence it can use to defend itself among the files of thousands of claimants in the Garlock bankruptcy.

By court order, the statements of those plaintiffs include their law firm, address and partial Social Security numbers, Ford said, information it could use to match up against plaintiffs suing it for asbestos exposure. Lawyers have managed to keep such records secret, citing the privacy of health records. But they also began requesting secrecy in the early 2000s after judges started concentrating thousands of cases in a single court, making it easier to expose unethical fee-splitting arrangements and other practices they’d prefer to keep out of the eyes of the public.

In its filing, Ford said the company, “like everyone else, enjoys a presumptive right to inspect judicial records, or documents filed in the Nation’s courts to adjudicate rights.” Since public access is presumed, the company said, it’s the burden of the plaintiffs to show why the records should remain sealed. Concerns about privacy and identity theft “may be preserved by more reasonable, less restrictive measures.”

Reuters reported last month that Ford cited Hodge’s ruling in another, unrelated case in North Carolina. And health insurers including Humana Humana, Aetna Aetna and Blue Cross have filed motions in Philadelphia and New York seeking the records of bankruptcy trusts so they try and recover money they’ve spent treating diseases plaintiffs blame on asbestos exposure.

If Ford is successful, it may help undermine a strategy that has allowed lawyers to earn billions of dollars in fees by suing multiple companies over asbestos exposure with often conflicting stories about how their clients got sick. While some scientists argue in court that even one stray asbestos fiber can cause cancer, most epidemiological studies have found that continuous, heavy exposure to long-fiber amphibole asbestos is necessary to develop asbestosis and mesothelioma.

In order to prevail in court — or to make a legal argument sufficient to obtain a large settlement — plaintiffs must show the company they are suing was the most likely cause of their illness. So it is important to defendants like Ford, whose products have little or no connection to asbestos disease, to be able to show that the person suing them has previously claimed exposure to more potent compounds.

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Ford Seeks Garlock Bankruptcy Information To Fight Its Own Asbestos Suits

Chain-Smoking Congresswoman's Asbestos Suit Shows New Trend

Beschreibung: Konventionelles Rntgenbild des ...

Uh-oh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If anybody should understand what caused her lung cancer, it’s New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. The 69-year-old Democrat spent 30 years as a nurse before being elected to the U.S. Congress, and reportedly was a heavy smoker for more than 40 years.

Yet McCarthy is suing more than 70 asbestos companies to pay for her cancer, saying she was actually sickened by asbestos fibers carried home on the clothes of father and brothers, who worked on navy ships and in utilities.

McCarthy’s suit has drawn well-deserved criticism, both for the implausibility of her claims and because her lawyers are the politically connected firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which employs the speaker of the New York General Assembly, Sheldon Silver. Odds are most of the companies she’s suing will settle for that reason alone.

But McCarthy also illustrates a potentially disturbing new trend for both corporate defendants and the true victims of asbestos-related disease. Having exhausted the pool of mesothelioma claimants, plaintiff lawyers are turning to lung cancer again, reviving a strategy that fell into disuse after courts started removing cases not directly claiming asbestos disease from the docket. They’re filing thousands of cases on behalf of smokers who claim that stray asbestos fibers, not cigarettes, made them sick.

If the strategy works, plaintiff lawyers will succeed in draining bankruptcy trusts set up for the benefit of asbestos victims, leaving less money for people with mesothelioma and asbestosis, which are both directly linked to asbestos exposure. It may even set up a conflict between lawyers who pay millions of dollars for TV and Internet advertising to get the 2,500 or so patients diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and higher-volume law firms representing lung cancer plaintiffs.

Lung-cancer claims in Madison County, Ill. and Delaware, two of the most active venues for asbestos litigation, have more than doubled since 2010, to more than 600 a year in each court system, according to a new article in Mealey’s Asbestos Bankruptcy Report. Southern California courts are also seeing an upturn. And an analysis of claims in the Philadelphia Court of Common Please found that 75% of the claimants suing over asbestos-related lung cancer revealed a smoking history, with three-quarters of them smoking at least a pack a day for an average of 39 years.

The report, by Peter Kelso and Marc Scarcella of Bates White Economic Consulting and Joseph Cagnoli, a partner with the defense firm of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, says lung-cancer claims have fluctuated up and down over the years, not because of changes in the rate of cancer — new diagnoses run around 200,000 a year in the U.S. and are declining steadily — but due to “changing economic incentives for plaintiff law firms.”

Lawyers made billions of dollars in the 1980s and 1990s by setting up mobile X-ray screening sites at union halls and other locations with concentrations of industrial workers, l0oking for claimants with lung scarring or other signs of asbestos-related disease. Because lung cancer is clearly caused by smoking, workers with cancer and a history of smoking were considered to have lower-value cases than n0n-smoking workers with asbestosis.

Using a time-honored strategy, lawyers bundled those weak and strong cases together, leveraging larger overall settlements than if the cases were presented separately. The most valuable cases have always involved mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest lining that is closely linked to asbestos exposure (although it clearly has other causes; the death rate has been rising in recent years despite a steep decline in industrial asbestos use since the 1970s.). In one example cited by the authors, G-I Holdings G-I Holdings settled 160,000 cases in the 1990s in groups of 250 or more, paying out two-thirds of the money to non-mesothelioma claimants.

So-called n0n-malignant cases plunged a decade ago after courts around the country stopped allowing them on their active dockets, thus removing them from the pool of cases lawyers could bundle for settlement. Non-malignant claims fell from 90% of claims and 50% of payments to 2% of settled cases. Mesothelioma grabbed the vast majority of the money from court settlements.

Since lawyers spent an estimated $500-$1,000 per plaintiff for mass screenings, the authors say, the decline of non-malignant claims made it less economically viable to perform mass screenings. One side effect was fewer lung-cancer claims.

But at the same time, many asbestos manufacturers declared bankruptcy and set up trusts, typically under the control of plaintiff lawyers, to pay out claims. Those trusts, now with more than $30 billion in assets, often provide “expedited review” that allows plaintiffs to collect small awards — $4,000 to as little as $250 — with minimal paperwork and no requirement to disclose smoking history.

The authors say the trusts have paid out $1.2 billion in lung-cancer claims since 2009, and estimate that each claimant might hit 20-30 trusts for payment, meaning as much as $106,000 for a case of lung cancer likely caused by smoking. That provides enough fee income for lawyers to start mass screenings again, the authors say. Out of 1,000 workers screened, lawyers could be expected to turn up 40 cancer claims worth about $3 million in fees after expenses, compared with perhaps 10 cases of asbestosis.

Without judicial mechanisms to more carefully vet these cases, they write, “there is nothing preventing plaintiff law firms from bringing mass quantities of meritless lung cancer cases against asbestos defendants.”

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Chain-Smoking Congresswoman's Asbestos Suit Shows New Trend