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January 14, 2014

Asbestos Decision is a ‘Potential Game-changer’

Writing in the New York Times, Joe Nocera calls a recent asbestos ruling a victory for the rule of law in the United States:

The judge allowed the [defendant] company to do a deep dive into 15 cases that Garlock had previously settled. For a victim to demand money from Garlock, he or she had to stipulate that Garlock’s gasket had been a primary exposure to asbestos. To maximize the money they could get from Garlock, they would deny, under oath, other exposures to the products of the bankrupt companies that had set up trusts.

But as Garlock soon discovered, no sooner had the victims settled then they would file documents with a dozen or more trusts stipulating the opposite: that they had had “meaningful and credible exposure” to asbestos from the bankrupt companies. (The plaintiffs’ lawyers, who control the trusts, have successfully fought to keep this information confidential.) Judge Hodges, in his decision, seemed thunderstruck that this pattern occurred in every case that Garlock investigated. The phrase he used to describe this behavior was “withholding evidence.”

This is Nocera’s second column to appear in the Times in the past six weeks on what he calls ‘The Asbestos Scam.’ Previously, he wrote about a lawsuit from a long-time smoker who is claiming her lung cancer is the result of trace amounts of asbestos she was exposed to as a child on the clothes of her boilermaker family members.

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