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Asbestos Litigation – News and Updates

This article offers current developments in the realm of asbestos and mesothelioma, encompassing legal decisions, trial outcomes, legislative changes, updates on bankruptcies linked to asbestos, and details about asbestos trust funds. If you’ve received a mesothelioma diagnosis or suspect an asbestos-related case, contact our team of asbestos lawyers for assistance.

January 2, 2024 – Bankruptcy Approved

A U.S. bankruptcy judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, ruled on Thursday that Aldrich Pump and Murray Boiler, two subsidiaries of Trane Technologies, can continue their bankruptcy process. This decision comes despite claims from asbestos plaintiffs that these companies are not actually struggling financially.

This is a frustrating development.  The judge is allowing the infamous ‘Texas Two-step’, a legal strategy used by solvent companies to separate legal liabilities into newly formed companies that then declare bankruptcy.  Most courts that looked at this in 2023 – notably in major mass torts like the 3M earplug and talc powder litigation – went the other way.

The judge had some law to work with in the 4th Circuit to make this ruling plausible. Hopefully, the 4th Circuit gets it right and flips this ruling.

December 24, 2023 – St. Croix Chapter 11 Settlement

On December 22, 2023, a plan was formulated by Honx Inc., a bankrupt subsidiary of global oil and gas company Hess Corp, to pay roughly $190 million to resolve numerous asbestos claims linked to a former refinery in St. Croix.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy proposal seeks to settle 910 current claims from workers and their families alleging asbestos exposure at the refinery. The plan includes an initial $105 million contribution and full equity in a reorganized company for current claimants. An additional $45 million is allocated for potential future claims, with $25 million disbursed upon plan implementation and $20 million five years later.

Additionally, Hess has agreed to a potential payout of up to $37 million over 25 years, along with $3 million for trust expenses. This plan is expected to gain support from attorneys representing future asbestos victims, contingent upon the backing of 75% of asbestos claimants and judicial approval.

December 19, 2023 – Verdict Overturned

A significant asbestos verdict in California, amounting to $107 million against Union Carbide, Elementis Chemicals, and E.F. Brady, was overturned due to findings of jury and attorney misconduct. The judge highlighted the use of a prohibited quotient verdict process and misconduct by the plaintiff’s counsel in terms of eliciting blocked testimony and appealing to the jury’s passion and prejudice.

Defense lawyers argued against improper suggestions made by the plaintiffs’ counsel regarding punitive damages and associations with other corporations. Despite the decision to overturn, the case will be retried, and there’s optimism that the verdict will remain consistent in the next trial.

December 15, 2023 – Case Reinstated on Appeal

A divided Connecticut appeals court reinstated an asbestos tort action, finding evidence indicating that Rogers Corp. was aware of asbestos hazards but failed to disclose this information. The ruling shifted the burden of proof to the plaintiff and addressed the dissolution status of “Special Electric Co.” (SECO), asserting that SECO’s insurers acted as agents despite dissolution.

The series of events detailed numerous legal battles, settlements, verdicts, and regulatory shifts concerning asbestos-related matters, spanning various states and industries.

December 5, 2023 – $5.4 Million Louisiana Shipyard Verdict

In an asbestos lawsuit against Main Iron Works, a shipyard in Houma, Louisiana, a Louisiana jury granted $5,474,934.20 in compensation. This case, brought forth in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, centered around the late Donald Foret, who tragically passed away from mesothelioma 18 months after diagnosis. His widow and sons attributed his mesothelioma to asbestos exposure during his tenure as an insulator at Main Iron Works from 1967 to 1971.

Over a six-day trial period, the plaintiffs presented evidence from various experts, including Richard Kradin from Massachusetts General Hospital, Thomas Selders, a certified industrial hygienist from Dallas, and Randolph Rice, a forensic economist from Baton Rouge. Main Iron Works defended itself with Sheldon Rabinowitz, a certified industrial hygienist and toxicology expert from North Potomac, Maryland, known for testifying frequently for defendants. The defense contended that Foret’s mesothelioma might have been caused by exposures unrelated to Main Iron Works, cast doubt on the presence of asbestos in the insulation, and claimed the company had no awareness of potential dangers at the time.

After lengthy deliberation, the jury found Main Iron Works liable on grounds of negligence and strict liability. The jury awarded damages that included $1,140,611.30 for various elements such as physical pain and suffering, mental distress, physical disability, and loss of life enjoyment. Additionally, $461,288 was allotted for medical expenses, and $451,201 for lost earnings, summing up to a total award exceeding $5.4 million.

November 7, 2023 – Genetic Testing Answers Ordered

A California judge ruled that a plaintiff in an asbestos-talc case must answer three specific questions about her genetic testing that she previously refused to answer during her deposition.

That is the bad news. The good news is the judge also determined that the defendants, Mary Kay Inc. and Colgate-Palmolive Co., are not entitled to comprehensive discovery of all genetic mutation information related to the plaintiff. The judge denied the defendants’ request for broader genetic information, including details of recent genetic testing and any discovered genetic mutations.

The judge referenced previous lawsuits where requests for genetic information had been handled, emphasizing that broad genetic data disclosure has never been authorized without adequate justification. He pointed out that asbestos tort defendants must take plaintiffs as they find them, and genetic mutations that simply make a plaintiff more likely to develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure do not override the plaintiff’s privacy interests. It is good to see a judge understand this.

November 4, 2023 – $20 Million Verdict Against Ford Motor

In a recent decision by the Missouri appeals court, Ford Motor Co.’s appeal of a $20 million asbestos verdict was rejected. The court examined nine issues raised by the company and found no errors.

Ford had raised concerns about improper and prejudicial jury instructions. Despite these arguments, the appeals court upheld the verdict, affirming the $20 million award without providing a written opinion.

It is always good to see a good verdict affirmed.

October 8, 2024 – Tough Loss in Massachusetts

In a federal case in Massachusetts, a jury found that Foster Wheeler Energy Corp. did not breach the implied warranty of merchantability by selling boilers without adequate warnings, nor were they negligent for not providing such warnings.

This verdict was reached in an asbestos-related case under maritime law, which allowed for the consideration of loss of consortium, punitive, and survival damages. The trial concluded with Foster Wheeler as the sole defendant.

September 14, 2023 – $38 Million Verdict in New York

The 66-year-old plaintiff, an immigrant, was employed with commercial boilers during the 1970s and 80s. In 2017, he received a diagnosis of lung cancer. Among the multiple initial defendants, only one manufacturer went to trial.

In Manhattan, a jury held a commercial boiler manufacturer 85% accountable for causing the man’s advanced lung cancer resulting from asbestos exposure. They granted compensatory damages to the man and his wife, along with an additional $6.5 million in punitive damages. The jury attributed 15% liability to the plaintiff due to his history of smoking. The defense argued that since the man smoked and didn’t exhibit the usual diagnoses associated with asbestos exposure, the cancer couldn’t have originated from their product.

August 5, 2023 – Mesothelioma Rates Declining

A recent study has at last indicated a decline in mesothelioma rates associated with asbestos exposure, marking a shift occurring many years after the substantial ban on asbestos usage in the United States. Duke researchers highlighted that restrictions on asbestos, implemented in 1972, have played a role in the reduction of mesothelioma diagnoses. Published in Environmental Research, the study analyzed more than 600 mesothelioma cases across four decades, scrutinizing alterations in patient demographics and the presence of asbestos in lung tissue. The outcomes exhibited a trend toward older patients, a higher prevalence among women, and a noticeable decrease in asbestos-related cases. Particularly noteworthy is the considerable decrease in the percentage of cases accompanied by asbestosis over time.