Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

The Litigation and Liability Strategies Behind Asbestosis Lawsuits

September 13, 2013

Charlotte, NC Critics of big business and manufacturing accused of turning a blind eye toward the risks associated with working with asbestos, only to turn to bankruptcy to avoid paying the full freight of asbestosis compensation, maintain they have only themselves to blame. An ongoing court case earlier this summer aptly demonstrates the complexities and frustration that can lie on the other side of asbestosis disease.

For the patient saddled with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma, what lay at the other side is a certain death sentence. In the short term, either for the victim or the victim’s family, is the need to pursue an asbestosis claim in order to help with medical bills - and simply to achieve some justice and closure for the victim exposed to deadly asbestos fibers through no fault of his own.

A bankruptcy case going through the courts in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early August aptly demonstrates the size and breadth of an adverse health issue that continues to be a force decades after the use of asbestos was curtailed. That’s because asbestos fibers can hibernate in an asbestosis lung for years before affected cells begin to mutate, forming deadly cancer cells from which survival is at serious risk.

As chronicled in the Charlotte Observer (8/2/13), Garlock Sealing Technologies (Garlock) is a company based in Palmyra, New York, but is a subsidiary of EnPro Industries of Charlotte. Garlock makes seals and gaskets for industries including petrochemicals, power generation, mining and pharmaceuticals. The products contain asbestos, which has been identified as a known carcinogen since the early 1900s.

Garlock, according to the report, has already paid out $1.3 billion in damages related to its use of asbestos and health issues affecting employees working in close proximity with asbestos. At present, Garlock maintains that its current liability to existing and future victims of asbestosis cancer is $125 million. However, an asbestosis lawyer representing the victims puts the liability a lot higher, at another $1.3 billion.

In an apparent effort to cut its losses and work out a more palatable deal with regard to its liability, the otherwise solvent Garlock applied for Chapter 11 protection in 2010. In order to emerge from bankruptcy, the company has agreed to the establishment of a trust fund to cover asbestosis lung disease claims. The figure, based on the company’s own filings that its asbestosis exposure liability is at, or near zero, is pegged at $270 million. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, however, balk at that figure and maintain Garlock’s sense of liability has no foundation in reality. To break the impasse, US Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges was left to determine his own figure of liability that would be acceptable to all.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there have been more than 30,000 needless deaths from asbestosis plural plaques and mesothelioma in the nine years covering 1998 through 2007. One asbestosis attorney calls the use of deadly asbestos in manufacturing - and exposing countless innocent workers to the deadly carcinogen without education, equipment or protection - as corporate mass genocide.

Among the victims of asbestosis lung disease, according to the Charlotte Observer, are Charlotte native Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff; singer Warren Zevon; and football star and actor Merlin Olsen.