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July 17, 2018

Ex-congresswoman could get payout from court tied to Silver

Judges have helped turn Manhattan’s special asbestos court into a gold mine for Sheldon Silver’s law firm — and a former Long Island congresswoman could also reap the rewards.

In a 2011 case brought by the ex-speaker’s firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, Justice Martin Shulman, Silver’s Lower East Side neighbor and fellow synagogue member, opened the floodgates for heavy smokers to win huge sums by blaming their lung cancer on asbestos. They include former Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, 71.

The retired lawmaker claims in a $100 million-plus lawsuit that she was exposed to the toxic chemical as a child when her father and brothers unwittingly brought asbestos fibers home from their shipyard jobs. The Democrat had smoked for 40 years. Silver’s firm filed her suit in 2013.

Silver, the disgraced Democratic kingmaker booted last week from the Assembly-speaker post he held for two decades, raked in $5.3 million in salary and referral fees from Weitz & Luxenberg despite doing no legal work.

In indicting Silver, US Attorney Preet Bharara called the cash bribes and kickbacks.

But those payments are peanuts next to the hundreds of millions the East Village firm netted while Silver, hired in 2002 for his “prestige and perceived power,” wielded huge influence over the state judiciary.

“Silver was gold. That’s why they hired Shelly,” said a source familiar with the firm.

A series of rulings by judges in New York City Asbestos Litigation, a special Supreme Court section known as NYCAL, have enriched the firm and paved the way for bigger settlements and verdicts, critics and experts say. The firm files more than half the NYCAL cases — and collects most of the winnings.

In a 2011 case, Shulman set high damages for two steamfitters — both smokers for more than 25 years — who worked with gaskets containing asbestos and later died of lung cancer. The jury found Goodyear Tire and Rubber and Goodyear Canada partially responsible. Shulman let stand an $8.5 million verdict for one man and cut another’s $13.5 million verdict to $6 million.

“There is no bigger gift he [Shulman] could have given to Weitz and Silver,” said an asbestos defense lawyer, who fears it set a precedent.

Phil Singer, a Weitz & Luxenberg spokesman, said smokers have a higher risk of cancer when exposed to asbestos, and that Shulman upheld the high award because of the workers’ “horrific pain and suffering.”

The average award for a NYCAL asbestos case — nearly $16 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014 — is two to three times larger than those in other courts nationwide, data show.

Weitz & Luxenberg could win millions more from a ruling by chief asbestos Justice Sherry Klein Heitler last year. At the firm’s urging, she lifted NYCAL’s 20-year moratorium on punitive damages.

NYCAL’s prior chief judge, Helen Freedman, had imposed the ban as “the fair thing to do” because wrongs were committed 20 or 30 years before, often by a predecessor company.

In lifting NYCAL’s ban, Heitler said punitive damages should be sought only in rare cases of egregious conduct. But Weitz & Luxenberg has since indicated it may seek the extra payments in every case.

The firm defended its victories. “The verdicts we’ve achieved are a direct result of these corporations’ outrageous misconduct and wanton disregard for their victims. They had nothing to do with Sheldon Silver,” Singer said.

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Ex-congresswoman could get payout from court tied to Silver

Silver’s law firm rakes in cash as asbestos court fast-tracks claims

Sheldon Silver has perverted the courts as well as the Capitol.

His law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, gets its asbestos cases — and paydays — moved more quickly than those of other attorneys, and reaps a fortune from favorable rulings by friendly judges, charge lawyers and tort-reform advocates.

Silver’s East Village firm handles more than half the cases in a special section of Manhattan Supreme Court called NYCAL (New York City Asbestos Litigation). So dominant is the firm, the court’s Web site refers to cases as “Weitz” or “non-Weitz.”

The chief asbestos judge, Sherry Klein Heitler — also Manhattan’s chief civil judge — has handled dozens of Weitz & Luxenberg cases.

“They’ve taken over a section of the courthouse, and the people in charge of the courthouse run it for them,” said a disgusted lawyer who files personal-injury cases in Manhattan. “It pours money into the firm.”

The firm told investigators it hired Silver, who has no experience in asbestos cases, in 2002, because it hoped to “increase the firm’s prestige and perceived power,” according to last week’s federal indictment charging Silver raked in about $4 million in bribes and kickbacks.

That perceived power has paid off, critics say.

Last year, at Weitz & Luxenberg’s request, Heitler reversed a 20-year rule barring punitive damages in asbestos cases, paving the way for much bigger jury awards and putting pressure on defendants to settle.

Another judge, Joan Madden, consolidated unrelated asbestos cases. Joining up to seven plaintiffs has resulted in huge increases in NYCAL jury verdicts — from an average of $7 million to $24 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014, data collected by Bates White Economic Consulting show.

Last year, Weitz & Luxenberg won a record $190 million in a consolidated trial for five mesothelioma victims who worked in different jobs for different employers.

Of 15 mesothelioma verdicts in the last four years, Silver’s firm won $273.5 million of $313.5 million awarded by NYCAL juries. Law firms usually take a third.

The average award for a NYCAL asbestos case — nearly $16 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014 — is two to three times larger than those in other courts nationwide, Bates White reported last month at an asbestos law conference in New York.

Conference speakers included Heitler, Madden and Perry Weitz, Silver’s law partner and a founder of Weitz & Luxenberg.

Last month, the American Tort Reform Association branded NYCAL the nation’s top “judicial hellhole,” saying it’s rife with plaintiff attorneys “brazenly favored by the judges.”

The group largely blames Silver, who not only has killed any tort reform, such as efforts to limit claims and cap damages, in Albany, but wields enormous power over the judiciary.

“Imagine you’re a judge and you know the person in front of you litigating in asbestos court is also responsible in some way for your career,” said Tom Stebbins, a spokesman for the New York Lawsuit Reform Alliance, which also faults Silver.

As Assembly speaker since 1994, Silver names one of 13 members to a state judicial screening committee. The panel recommends candidates for the governor’s appointment to the Court of Claims and Appellate Division and other judge vacancies.

In 2008, Silver named his law partner and another Weitz & Luxenberg founder, Arthur Luxenberg, to the committee, ignoring the blatant conflict of interest.

Silver also plays a key role, along with Gov. Cuomo and the state Senate majority leader, in negotiating the judiciary’s budget. In 2011, Silver’s appointee to a seven-member state commission cast the deciding vote to give all state judges a 27 percent pay hike.

As one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, Silver also strongly influences his party’s nomination of candidates for judgeships in Manhattan and elsewhere. Heitler and Madden are both Democrats, and both first ran for the bench during Silver’s tenure as speaker.

“He has a hand in judicial appointments, and judges know not to bite the hand that feeds them,” said Mark Behrens, a DC attorney who advocates for asbestos-litigation reform for defendants.

To top all that, Silver and New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are boyhood chums from the Lower East Side.

Lippman, who has been the chief administrative judge for all New York state courts since 2009, can assign judges to top administrative positions and plum posts.

Heitler was promoted to Manhattan’s chief administrative judge in 2009, a post she holds in addition to running asbestos court.

Sources say Weitz & Luxenberg gets the “red-carpet treatment” in Manhattan, including “more experienced and better judges” in the asbestos court.

One lawyer said he recently showed up to start a trial.

“In walked the Weitz & Luxenberg lawyers,” he said. The entire pool of 150 potential jurors was herded into their courtrooms.

“A jury clerk told us, ‘The asbestos cases are taking priority. You have to wait,’ ” the lawyer recalled, griping that his trial was delayed four days until another batch of jurors became available.

“All the other lawyers — and their clients — are getting screwed,” he said.

State courts spokesman David Bookstaver said Friday that he could not reach anyone to explain the alleged jury hogging.

Weitz & Luxenberg filed 53 percent of the NYCAL mesothelioma cases and 74 percent of the lung-cancer cases from 2011 to 2013, Bates White found.

Besides the landmark $190 million award, the firm last June won $25 million for two workers exposed to asbestos insulation, and $20 million for the family of a former ship fitter who died.

The indictment says Silver pocketed $5.3 million from Weitz & Luxenberg without ever doing legal work — as he was paid a yearly salary of $120,000 (for a total $1.4 million since 2002) and $3.9 million in “referral fees.”

Silver allegedly drummed up plaintiffs — and referral fees — by having Columbia University Medical Center cancer researcher Dr. Robert Taub funnel mesothelioma patients to the firm.

In return, Silver allegedly steered $500,000 in taxpayer-funded grants to Taub and $25,000 in state funds to a nonprofit employing Taub’s wife and a helped find a job for Taub’s son at a different nonprofit.

Dr. Taub has been fired.

Additional reporting by Isabel Vincent

See the article here – 

Silver’s law firm rakes in cash as asbestos court fast-tracks claims

Vivienne Westwood Tries To Give David Cameron Asbestos For Christmas

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has attempted to deliver asbestos as a Christmas present to David Cameron in a protest against fracking.

The 73-year-old, her son and a protester dressed as Santa Claus in a gas mask, turned up outside the gates of Downing Street with holding a clear box filled with the poisonous substance.

Westwood said she wanted to wish the PM a “merry fracking Christmas” but police did not allow the dubious gift to reach him.

vivienne westwood

Westwood with Santa

Westwood, who was also at Downing Street with her businessman son Joseph Corre, was campaigning about the alleged health risks linked to fracking, with the campaign Talk Fracking.

SEE ALSO:
That Vivienne Westwood ‘Eat Less’ Row Has Just Become Even More Awkward
Westwood Blogs: Big Ag – “Eat Less”

Malcolm McLaren, Corre’s father, died of cancer due to asbestos, and his mother Westwood warned that the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique used to extract oil and gas could become “the next asbestos or thalidomide”.

After the box of asbestos was rejected, Westwood and her son delivered “independent medical reports” on the consequences of fracking to the PM.

vivienne westwood

Westwood got to Downing Street – but the “present” wasn’t allowed in

vivienne westwood

Westwood warned fracking could become “the next asbestos or thalidomide”.

Asked if she expected the Prime Minister to listen to their message, Westwood said: “Will David Cameron listen to us? He lost a child, he must have some sympathy, and he’s not connecting the dots.”

“They link very clearly the chemicals used in fracking industry to some really horrible, serious illnesses,” 47-year-old Corre said.

“Birth defects in children, horrible cancers, skin diseases, rashes, nosebleeds, stunted growth, all kinds of things.

“We are lucky to have this information in advance from the terrible situation that his happening right now in the United States.

“We have the opportunity now, and I hope David Cameron takes it, to put an end to what could be something quite disastrous for the UK.

“David Cameron has no democratic mandate to be pushing this through on to the British people. This is something the entire country is going to start waking up to.”

The protest came after New York state governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced yesterday that it would ban fracking after a report concluded that it poses potential health risks.

Corre said that his inspiration for taking a stance against fracking was his father’s death from cancer aged 64.

“He died a really horrible death. It was quite something and I wouldn’t want to wish that on to anybody or anybody’s family.”

The protesters claimed that chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport warned in his annual report that the Government has not given proper consideration to the potential health risks of fracking.

But Walport denied that the view that fracking could be the next asbestos or thalidomide should be attributed to him.
Rather, it was the view of another author, Andy Stirling, who contributed an evidence document to the annual report.

Sir Mark said: “With regard to fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of shale to obtain natural gas and oil, I fully endorse the report of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“Of course, methane is a fossil fuel, but as long as it is burned efficiently and fugitive emissions of methane gas are minimised, it is a less harmful fossil fuel than coal and oil, and is an important way-station on the global journey towards low-carbon energy.

“The scientific evidence is clear that any environmental or geological risks can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through effective regulation.”

Downing Street declined to respond to Ms Westwood’s comments about Cameron’s son.

Westwood in No 10 asbestos protest

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood attempted to deliver asbestos as a Christmas present to David Cameron – and told him to have sympathy because “he lost a child”.

The 73-year-old was at Downing Street with her businessman son Joseph Corre to campaign about the alleged health risks linked to fracking.

Mr Corre, whose impresario father Malcolm McLaren died of cancer due to asbestos, and his mother warned that the controversial hydraulic fracturing technique of extracting oil and gas could become “the next asbestos or thalidomide”.

They turned up outside the gates of Downing Street with another protester dressed as Santa Claus wearing a gas mask to deliver a box of asbestos – but police did not allow the “present” through.

Asked if she expected the Prime Minister to listen to their message, Ms Westwood said: “Will David Cameron listen to us? He lost a child, he must have some sympathy, and he’s not connecting the dots.”

Instead of the box of asbestos, Westwood and her son delivered “independent medical reports” on the consequences of fracking.

“They link very clearly the chemicals used in fracking industry to some really horrible, serious illnesses,” 47-year-old Mr Corre said.

“Birth defects in children, horrible cancers, skin diseases, rashes, nosebleeds, stunted growth, all kinds of things.

“We are lucky to have this information in advance from the terrible situation that his happening right now in the United States.

“We have the opportunity now, and I hope David Cameron takes it, to put an end to what could be something quite disastrous for the UK.

“David Cameron has no democratic mandate to be pushing this through on to the British people. This is something the entire country is going to start waking up to.”

The protest came after New York state governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced yesterday that it would ban fracking after a report concluded that it poses potential health risks.

Mr Corre said that his inspiration for taking a stance against fracking was his father’s death from cancer aged 64.

“He died a really horrible death. It was quite something and I wouldn’t want to wish that on to anybody or anybody’s family.”

The protesters claimed that chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport warned in his annual report that the Government has not given proper consideration to the potential health risks of fracking.

But Sir Mark denied that the view that fracking could be the next asbestos or thalidomide should be attributed to him.

Rather, it was the view of another author, Andy Stirling, who contributed an evidence document to the annual report.

Sir Mark said: “With regard to fracking, the hydraulic fracturing of shale to obtain natural gas and oil, I fully endorse the report of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“Of course, methane is a fossil fuel, but as long as it is burned efficiently and fugitive emissions of methane gas are minimised, it is a less harmful fossil fuel than coal and oil, and is an important way-station on the global journey towards low-carbon energy.

“The scientific evidence is clear that any environmental or geological risks can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through effective regulation.”

Downing Street declined to respond to Ms Westwood’s comments about Mr Cameron’s son.

Original article:  

Westwood in No 10 asbestos protest

ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

ACT News

Date

The ACT Government has moved to close a loophole that has allowed builders to remove up to 10-square-metres of bonded asbestos from homes, a rule the Government says has been widely misunderstood and abused.

From January 1, any asbestos removal, including bonded asbestos sheeting, must be done by licensed asbestos removalists, who will now come under the control of Worksafe.

Builders were never allowed under the law to remove even 10-square-metres without asbestos training, but Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said the training requirement was the most widely flouted.

“The 10-square-metre rule is actually significantly misunderstood. Tradesmen think it means they can remove up to 10-square-metres of asbestos without controls, that’s not true,” he said.

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ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

Federal government abandons NSW over Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation threat, says Labor

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Federal government abandons NSW over Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation threat, says Labor

No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

An investigation into how asbestos was managed in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake has found some deficiencies but no reason to prosecute anyone.

WorkSafe New Zealand has completed its review of asbestos management in the Canterbury Home Repair Programme.

WorkSafe launched the inquiry earlier this year after allegations surfaced about possible inadequacies in the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and Fletcher EQR’s systems for identifying and managing asbestos hazards during early stages of the Canterbury rebuild.

Gordon MacDonald, WorkSafe chief executive, said the investigation did find some deficiencies in the management of asbestos during early parts of the Home Repair Programme.

However, WorkSafe said the risk of harm to workers and residents was very low and prosecution was not justified. The risk to residents was likely to have been even lower, WorkSafe said.

“Given the scale of work in Canterbury it’s inevitable there were instances where work was not up to best practice and our investigation did identify shortcomings with the management of asbestos,” Mr MacDonald said.

“It has to be remembered that in the weeks and months after the Canterbury earthquakes there was an incredible amount of work done – both demolitions and emergency repairs. People and organisations were stretched and conditions were far from ideal,” he added.

Mr MacDonald said contractors had significantly improved the way they managed asbestos. He said WorkSafe and its Canterbury Rebuild Safety Charter partners had also educated tradespeople and contractors about health risks asbestos posed.

WorkSafe said the investigation included reviews of EQC and Fletcher EQR documentation, their systems and processes. It also included interviews with management, contractors and residents.

Investigators also carried out property inspections and asbestos testing in a few houses – including surface and air testing.

WorkSafe said it also hired independent experts to review research conducted on behalf of Fletcher EQR into breathable fibre release during certain types of repair work.

APNZ

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No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

New campaign on asbestos exposure

Construction workers and tradespeople including carpenters and painters could come into contact with asbestos more than 100 times a year, with few knowing whether the deadly dust is in newer buildings, according to a report.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched a new safety campaign amid concerns of confusion on how to combat exposure to asbestos.

With 20 people dying every week from asbestos-related diseases, the HSE revealed some common myths, such as drinking water or opening a window to keep workers safe.

A survey of 500 tradespeople showed that fewer than a third could identify the correct measures for safe asbestos working, while only 15% knew that the dust could still be found in buildings built up to the year 2000.

Fewer than one in five knew that asbestos could be hidden in toilet seats and cisterns.

Health and safety minister Mark Harper said: “The number dying every year from asbestos-related diseases is unacceptably high. Despite being banned in the construction industry, asbestos exposure remains a very serious risk to tradespeople. This safety campaign is about highlighting the risks and easy measures people can take to protect themselves.”

Philip White, HSE’s chief inspector for construction, said: “Asbestos is still a very real danger and the survey findings suggest that the people who come into contact with it regularly often don’t know where it could be and worryingly don’t know how to deal with it correctly, which could put them in harm’s way.

“Our new campaign aims to help tradespeople understand some of the simple steps they can take to stay safe. Our new web app is designed for use on a job so workers can easily identify if they are likely to face danger and can then get straightforward advice to help them do the job safely.”

Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said “Construction workers are the greatest risk of being exposed to asbestos. Any campaign that warns workers of the dangers of asbestos is to be welcomed. However the campaign needs to be as wide ranging as possible and should not be confined to one company to distribute information.

“Over the last four and a half years, thousands of workers have been needlessly exposed to asbestos and their health has been put at risk because of that decision”

“It is vital that construction workers receive proper training in the dangers of asbestos, where it is likely to be found and what to do if you suspect asbestosis present. It is essential that pressure is placed on employers to ensure that training takes place and that workers are not victimised or threatened when raising concerns about asbestos, which is often the case.”

Original article – 

New campaign on asbestos exposure

NHS trust fined £90k over asbestos

Original post: 

NHS trust fined £90k over asbestos

Hazards of asbestos use still hound poor Asian countries

Vaishali, India — In most of Asia, asbestos is still being actively pushed as a product that benefits the poor, despite research data from various reputable health organizations concluding that it can cause serious health problems.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), medical researchers, and more than 50 countries say the mineral should be banned; asbestos fibers lodge in the lungs, and cause disease. ILO estimates 100,000 people die from workplace exposure every year.

WORKING WITH ‘HAZARDOUS’ ASBESTOS (AP) — A worker covers his face with a handkerchief to serve as protection from the hazards of handling asbestos sheets at a factory in Bhojpur, Bihar, India in this Nov. 23, 2013 photo. Scientists and medical experts overwhelmingly agree that inhaling any form of asbestos can lead to deadly diseases, but the Indian asbestos lobby say the risks are overblown.

But industry executives at the 2013 asbestos conference in New Delhi said the risks are overblown.

Instead, they described their business as a form of social welfare for hundreds of thousands of impoverished Indians still living in flimsy, mud-and-thatch huts.

“We’re here not only to run our businesses, but also to serve the nation,” India’s Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association Director Abhaya Shankar.

Umesh Kumar, a roadside vendor in Bihar’s capital Patna (around 70 kilometers from Vaishali), has long known there are health hazards to the 3-by-1-meter (10-by-3-foot) asbestos cement sheets he sells for 600 rupees ($10) each. But he doesn’t guide customers to the 800 rupee tin or fiberglass alternatives.

“This is a country of poor people, and for less money, they can have a roof over their heads,” he said.

Yet there are some poor Indians trying to keep asbestos out of their communities.

In the farming village of Vaishali, residents became outraged by the construction of an asbestos factory in their backyard. They had learned about the dangers of asbestos from a school boy’s science textbooks, and worried that asbestos fibers would blow into their tiny thatch homes. Their children, they said, could contract lung diseases most Indian doctors would never test for, let alone treat.

Durable and heat-resistant, asbestos was long a favorite insulation material in the West.

Medical experts say inhaling any form of asbestos can lead to deadly diseases 20 to 40 years later, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, or the scarring of the lungs.

Dozens of countries, including Japan, Argentina, and all European Union nations, have banned it entirely. Others, like the United States (US), have severely curtailed its use.

“All types of asbestos fiber are causally implicated in the development of various diseases and premature death,” the Societies of Epidemiology said in a 2012 position statement.

Russia now provides most asbestos in the world market. Meanwhile, rich nations are suffering health and economic consequences from past use.

American businesses have paid out at least $1.3 billion in the largest collection of personal injury lawsuits in US legal history. Billions have been spent stripping asbestos from buildings in the West.

The two-day asbestos conference in December was billed as scientific, though organizers admitted they had no new research. Many of the speakers are regulars at asbestos conferences in the developing world.

One could say they’ve gone back in time to defend asbestos.

The Indian lobby’s website refers to 1998 WHO guidelines for controlled use of chrysotile, but skips updated WHO advice from 2007, suggesting that all asbestos be banned. Its executive director, John Nicodemus, dismissed the WHO update as “scaremongering.”

Source: 

Hazards of asbestos use still hound poor Asian countries