February 18, 2019

Moon Area parents voice concerns about asbestos removal

Some parents in the Moon Area School District are concerned about the district’s plan to remove asbestos from two elementary schools during the nine-day spring break instead of over summer vacation.

About 20 parents attended two sessions Tuesday to discuss the removal of asbestos-containing vinyl floor tiles as part of $26.2 million in improvements planned at Allard and Brooks elementary schools.

The asbestos removal is scheduled to begin the evening of March 27 and be completed by April 2 to allow time for Allegheny County to review the project and for the district to install flooring and return furniture to rooms. The district’s spring break is March 28-April 5.

Will Nicastro, department manager with Professional Services Industries Inc. of Pittsburgh, said the floor tiling is “non-friable,” meaning it is resistant to crushing or pulverizing by hand, and it should be easily pried from the floor.

Testing and multiple cleaning processes will be used throughout each phase of the removal project, he said.

Some parents said they felt reassured after hearing the presentation, while others remained adamant that the project should be done over summer break, with the start of the 2015-16 school year delayed by one week.

School directors Jerry Testa and Michael Hauser were the only board members who attended either of the Tuesday sessions. Mr. Testa said he would prefer to delay the start of the 2015-16 school year.

“Based on what I heard tonight, I am even less comfortable than when I voted last Monday,” Mr. Testa said, referring to the Feb. 9 board meeting where directors voted 7-2 to approve plans that included the bidding of the asbestos projects. He and Mr. Hauser were the two dissenters.

It may be less expensive for the district to have the work done over spring break because firms are busy in June with summer construction projects, said Joe Kuchnicki, principal contractor with PSI.

PSI would prefer to do abatement work while students are not in building, he said, although local districts, including Montour and Mt. Lebanon, have done this type of abatement while students are in the building by closing off sections of the school from use. Doug Finke, PSI project manager, said other districts, such as North Hills, have conducted this type of abatement during weekends.

Some were concerned the time frame was too short for the work.

“I don’t want it done helter skelter,” said Basel Masry, an Allard parent. “By rushing it, you are setting it up for a fail.”

Mr. Kuchnicki called the timeline “somewhat of an aggressive schedule, but it is meet-able.”

At the Brooks session, where parents also brought up that concern, superintendent Curt Baker said, “The risk level is exceptionally low. There is no reason to put it off.”

PSI will not be the firm removing the asbestos as indicated during the Feb. 9 board meeting. It will monitor the contractors that are hired to complete the projects. Air quality testing will be completed by PSI throughout the abatement process. On-site tests will be performed before and during the project, including areas outside of the sealed work areas. Final air quality readings will be completed at the company’s main laboratory in Pittsburgh.

Open bidding on the project is to end March 2. The school board is scheduled to vote to select the firm or firms on March 9.

Further asbestos abatement, including insulation and boiler room work at Brooks and window work at Allard, will be completed during the summer. The window work will be done in conjunction with the installation of new windows.

Abatement also is expected to occur during the summer at R. Hyde Elementary in preparation for transforming it into a district learning center.

Sonja Reis, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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Moon Area parents voice concerns about asbestos removal

Insurers sue asbestos trust for records, say they suspect fraud

By Tom Hals

WILMINGTON, Del., July 3 (Reuters) – Six insurance companies are suing an asbestos personal injury trust set up by a U.S. unit of Philips that the insurers suspect has been making millions of dollars in fraudulent payments to parties that cannot prove they were harmed by the company’s asbestos products.

In the lawsuit, the insurers are seeking access to trust records.

The insurers said the asbestos personal injury or PI trust set up during the 2008 bankruptcy of T H Agriculture & Nutrition LLC, a unit of Philips Electronics North America Corp, had been paying substantially more claims than originally forecast.

“Plaintiffs have a reasonable suspicion that fraudulent claims have been submitted to and paid by the asbestos PI trust,” said the lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal and legislative actions aimed at shedding light on the trusts, which have been used for decades to compensate people injured by exposure to cancer-causing asbestos.

Dozens of companies have filed for bankruptcy in the wake of thousands of lawsuits and then set up trusts that collectively control tens of billions of dollars.

The six insurers were seeking to conduct an audit of trust records as part of a bankruptcy agreement with T H Agriculture & Nutrition, or THAN, Philips Electronics North America and the asbestos trust.

An attorney who represented THAN as well as the asbestos trust said the lawsuit had no merit because the insurers were offered the opportunity to audit the trust’s claims in compliance with the bankruptcy plan.

“They want to conduct a different audit than the one contemplated by the agreement,” said Sander Esserman of Stutzman, Bromberg, Esserman & Plifka in Dallas. “I suspect the lawsuit will not receive any traction in the courts.”

Philips Electronics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

THAN filed for bankruptcy in 2008 in the wake of thousands of lawsuits by people alleging they were made sick by the asbestos the company distributed until 1980.

In exchange for setting up the $900 million trust, all future asbestos-related claims against THAN were directed to the trust.

The six insurers agreed to make installment payments to Philips Electronics North America based on the distributions by the asbestos trust. They said in their lawsuit they may have paid $25 million more than they should have due to the suspected fraud.

The insurers are AIU Insurance Co, American Home Assurance Co, Birmingham Fire Insurance Co of Pennsylvania, Granite State Insurance Co, Lexington Insurance Co and National Union Fire Insurance Co of Pittsburgh.

In January, a judge found in the bankruptcy of Garlock Sealing Technologies that personal injury lawyers had repeatedly sought claims from asbestos trusts after their clients told courts they had no exposure to the products the trusts were compensating for.

Federal and state lawmakers have also proposed bills that would increase disclosure from the asbestos trusts.

The case is AIU Insurance Co et al v Philips Electronics North America Corp et al, Delaware Court of Chancery, No. 9852.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Insurers sue asbestos trust for records, say they suspect fraud

Manufacturer's Lonely Quest To Open Asbestos Claims Files Gains Strength

The American philosopher William James once observed that real scientific breakthroughs are achieved by “the born geniuses” who “let themselves be worried and fascinated” by exceptions to widely held theories about how the world works. They chase down explanations, he said, until the conventional wisdom is upset.

Something similar may be happening with asbestos litigation. A manufacturer’s stubborn crusade to open up the records of thousands of claims in asbestos cases has drawn the support of big names like Ford and Aetna, as they join in the effort to uncover evidence that lawyers have been gaming the multibillion-dollar system with conflicting stories about how their clients got sick.

The evidence is all there, in hundreds of thousands of claim forms and lawsuits filed by people seeking tens of billions of dollars for asbestos-related diseases. But plaintiff lawyers have mounted a fierce effort to keep most of those records sealed, in defiance of the normal presumption that court proceedings should be open to the public.

A bankruptcy judge in Charlotte, N.C. today is scheduled to hear arguments on motions by Aetna, Ford, Volkswagen, Honeywell and other companies to make public evidence Garlock Sealing Technologies uncovered in its bankruptcy. (Legal Newsline, a publication funded by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, has a similar case on appeal in federal court.)

In a January ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George R. Hodges slashed the asbestos liability of Garlock, an EnPro Industries unit, by $1 billion to to $125 million, citing evidence that lawyers had withheld information about their clients’ exposure to other asbestos products in order to pry larger settlements from Garlock.

(Photo credit: jasleen_kaur)

Ford, in a filing earlier this month, said Hodge’s “findings of widespread and demonstrable misconduct by asbestos claimants” and their attorneys suggest there’s valuable evidence in the sealed files that the automaker could use to defend itself. Volkswagen, in a filing earlier this week, said “it is nearly impossible for asbestos defendants to uncover the type of misrepresentation exposed in this proceeding without judicial intervention.”

If the companies are successful, they might finally unravel a pattern of misrepresentation in asbestos litigation that has cost companies billions of dollars and driven many of them into bankruptcy. Defense lawyers say the asbestos-lawsuit business is built upon the secrecy of plaintiff records, since only the lawyers representing asbestos claimants know all the different stories they’ve told in legal proceedings against different companies. (For one egregious example, see my story from 2006.) If those stories can be pulled together into a single file – as a Texas judge a few years ago did to uncover a massive fraud involving silicosis claims – then companies might have a better shot at limiting payouts to people who have already collected for their disease.

All the companies are seeking Rule 2019 filings, so named after the provision of the federal bankruptcy code that requires lawyers to identify clients who have claims against a bankrupt company. They say they need the 2019s to match up people who filed prior asbestos claims against lists of people suing them, so they can uncover evidence those plaintiffs had told conflicting stories about how they got sick.

This is a standard defense in tort law, which requires plaintiffs to prove that a company’s products were a “substantial factor” in causing their illness. As companies that made clearly dangerous products like asbestos pipe insulation have gone bankrupt, plaintiff lawyers have targeted companies like Garlock and Ford who sold products such as gaskets and brake pads that are unlikely to have made anyone sick. To help their clients win, they advise them to remember working only with the products of the company they are suing, even if they have previously made equally exclusive claims against other companies.

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.

“A lot of firms simply responded” by filing public 2019 forms with medical information in the early days, said S. Todd Brown, an associate professor at State University of New York Buffalo Law School and expert on asbestos bankruptcy trusts. “It wasn’t until later, after the litigation really got into full swing, that the current approach (of sealing records) became more common. Now everything is filed under seal and you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get access to it.”

The plaintiff lawyers had an ally in Judge Judith Fitzgerald, since retired to private practice, who oversaw a number of high-profile bankruptcies including Pittsburgh Corning, Armstrong World Industries, Federal-Mogul and Combustion Engineering. She allowed the lawyers to submit their 2019 filings on CDs, to be held by the court and released only on a judge’s order.

Not many people asked for the records 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.”

As solvent defendants went bankrupt, however, plaintiff lawyers started targeting companies like Garlock and demanding far more money to settle claims than they had before. Garlock’s attorneys figured their best defense might be to obtain evidence of other exposures, which would be contained in the 2019 filings and related paperwork filed with trusts bankrupt companies established to pay asbestos claims. But they hit a brick wall.

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Manufacturer's Lonely Quest To Open Asbestos Claims Files Gains Strength

Nemeroff Law Firm To Sponsor Ninth Annual ADAO International Asbestos Awareness Conference

DALLAS, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — The Nemeroff Law Firm, a leader in mesothelioma litigation, is proud to be a sponsor of the 2013 ADAO International Asbestos Awareness Conference, to be held in Washington, D.C. March 22-24. This year’s conference, “The Asbestos Crisis: New Trends in Prevention and Treatment,” features more than 30 renowned experts and asbestos victims from five countries, presenting the latest advancements in disease prevention, global advocacy, and treatment for mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused diseases.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20130320/NE80710 )

The annual conference is put on by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), an organization founded by asbestos victims and their families to help raise public awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure. ADAO is an independent global organization dedicated to preventing asbestos-related diseases through education, advocacy, and community. This year’s conference will offer cutting-edge sessions on medical advancements, patient and caregiver support, prevention and advocacy.

“The ADAO plays a critical role in asbestos research and advocacy on behalf of mesothelioma patients and their families,” said Rick Nemeroff, founder of The Nemeroff Law Firm. “We are proud to support this important conference and we offer an experienced legal team ready to fight on behalf of the victims of this disease.”

The Nemeroff Law Firm is dedicated to helping individuals and families who suffer from asbestos related mesothelioma. The firm focuses on delivering the best possible results in the quickest possible timeframe. Beyond the courtroom, The Nemeroff Law Firm is an active and dedicated advocate for mesothelioma research and patients’ rights, contributing to the mesothelioma community and sponsoring important events like the ADAO International Asbestos Awareness Conference.

About The Nemeroff Law Firm
With offices in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Pittsburgh, The Nemeroff Law Firm is a nationally recognized trial firm dedicated to helping individuals and families who suffer from asbestos related mesothelioma, harmful pharmaceuticals, and catastrophic personal injuries or death as a result of the wrongful or negligent conduct of others. Led by attorney Rick Nemeroff, the firm serves clients throughout the United States and Mexico, combining compassion and caring with aggressive litigation skills to deliver life-changing results.  For more information, contact The Nemeroff Law Firm at 866-435-1831, go to www.nemerofflaw.com or follow them on Twitter.

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Nemeroff Law Firm To Sponsor Ninth Annual ADAO International Asbestos Awareness Conference