A 2014 bankruptcy case, In re Garlock Sealing Technologies, revealed the dark underside of asbestos litigation. The judge in Garlock found that plaintiff’s attorneys engage in a systemic manipulation of asbestos exposure evidence.
Asbestos injury cases proceed on two tracks. On one track cases are filed in court against solvent defendants who often have little or no connection to the plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos. On the other, claims are made against trusts, set up by the bankrupt asbestos manufacturers, in an out of court process.
What’s the problem? Plaintiffs’ attorneys unfairly use the system to get two big payouts instead of one judgment that accurately and proportionately assigns liability.
Under current law, there is no way for the court to independently discover whether the plaintiff has actually, or will eventually, file a claim against numerous bankruptcy trusts for the alleged exposure to their asbestos products. This lack of transparency has allowed plaintiff’s attorneys to manipulate and conceal evidence during the court case and as a result, liability is not apportioned properly.
When the court is not made aware of all the plaintiff’s exposures to asbestos products, the defendants in the court case inevitably bear total responsibility for an injury for which they might only be partially responsible. After this court case concludes, the plaintiff’s attorney then files numerous claims for asbestos injury with the bankruptcy trusts. The Garlock case and others have demonstrated that often these claims are filed against the same bankrupt companies the plaintiff denied ever having contact with during the initial court case!
Preventing this systematic and intentional manipulation of justice calls for transparency in asbestos cases. House Bill 238 would require that a plaintiff in an asbestos case inform the court of any claims it has filed, or will file, against an asbestos trust. This will allow the court to properly apportion damages among all responsible parties. HB 238 will restore integrity to the evidentiary discovery process in asbestos cases and prevent manipulation of exposure evidence.
Written by Curt Schroder, Executive Director of PCCJR, a coalition dedicated to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by elevating awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal reform in the legislature More information at www.paforciviljusticereform.com