Asbestos Manufacturer Attempting to Change Landscape of Asbestos Litigation by Exposing “Double Dipping”

Major changes may be coming for asbestos lawsuits if a manufacturer’s request to a court to open up records of asbestos claims is granted.  Garlock Sealing Technologies is currently going through bankruptcy proceedings in Charlotte, North Carolina, and several big names such as Aetna, Ford, Volkswagen, and Honeywell have joined it in urging the court to make public the evidence that was uncovered in the bankruptcy proceedings.

The “Double Dipping” Phenomenon

Normally, after an asbestos claim is settled or a case has closed, the records and evidence used in the proceedings are sealed.  What many of the asbestos defendants (the big companies trying to open the records) are trying to prove is that some plaintiffs are suing each manufacturer for the entirety of their damages from asbestos exposure.  The problem with this approach is that sometimes asbestos plaintiffs may have been exposed to multiple sources of asbestos; in that case, the plaintiff is supposed to identify each source so the jury can assign a percentage of the fault to each defendant.  For example, a plaintiff may have been exposed to asbestos insulation from one manufacturer 75% of the time and also exposed to asbestos powder from construction 25% of the time.  The insulation manufacturer would accordingly pay 75% and the manufacturer of the construction materials would pay 25%.

The problem – at least from the perspective of the asbestos defendants – lies in the fact that a plaintiff may sue for 100% of the damages from one source, conceal the assignment of damages from future trials involving other defendants, and then proceed to sue for the full 100% of the damages again in another trial.

The Possible Effects of “Double Dipping”

In a ruling in January, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George R. Hodges reduced the asbestos liability of Garlock from $1 billion to $125 million after he was presented with evidence that lawyers had withheld information about their clients’ exposure to multiple asbestos products in an effort to maximize a settlement from Garlock.  Such a drastic change indicates the substantial difference additional information could make when it comes to assigning liability.

Defense lawyers contend that the entire business of asbestos manufacturer attempting lawsuits is built upon the secrecy of plaintiff records.  If all the records are unsealed, companies could possibly reduce their liability for asbestos claims by examining what payouts have already been claimed.

Why should the records remain closed?

One of the chief concerns about unsealing the records is that of plaintiff privacy.  The unsealing would affect not only the litigation information, but also plaintiff medical records, names, addresses, and other personal information.  When a judge finally has to decide whether or not to unseal the records, they must compare the plaintiffs’ right to privacy to the defendants’ interest in minimizing their liability.

Exposed to asbestos?

If you have been exposed to asbestos, you may be at risk of developing serious health conditions such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.  Contact an experienced asbestos attorney today for a consultation.

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