Two years ago in federal bankruptcy court, the Houston law firm of Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas moved for summary judgment against Garlock Sealing Technologies, which had accused the firm of making fraudulently inconsistent claims about the origin of a client’s mesothelioma.
Judge George Hodges of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina Charlotte Division subsequently ruled that the firm's attorneys had indeed withheld evidence while pursuing asbestos claims against Garlock Sealing Technologies.
Judge Hodges denounced “the effort by some plaintiffs and their lawyers to withhold evidence of exposure to other asbestos products and to delay filing claims against bankrupt defendants’ asbestos trusts until after obtaining recoveries from Garlock.”
In reaching his decision, Hodges had the benefit of a memorandum submitted to him by Lester Brickman, an asbestos litigation scholar and professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
“Garlock’s discovery reveals and confirms that plaintiffs’ counsel engaged in practices designed to prevent Garlock from discovering the discrepancies between what plaintiffs testified to in their tort suits against Garlock and the positions of plaintiffs’ counsel in those suits and what plaintiffs and their counsel asserted in trust claims,” Brickman wrote in his memo.
“The strategy of suppressing evidence of plaintiffs’ exposures to the bankrupts’ products was designed to maximize plaintiffs’ and their counsel’s recoveries by driving up Garlock’s settlement and defense costs and litigation risk, thus compelling Garlock to settle many cases that were lacking in merit,” Brickman asserted.
With information obtained via subpoena on multiple plaintiffs from Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas and five other law firms, Garlock was able to establish that settlements against it had been unfairly inflated. The company has filed racketeering lawsuits against four of the firms.
Brickman recently testified before a U.S. House subcommittee in favor of an asbestos claims transparency bill. Garlock's experience with double-dipping lawyers offers plenty of support for the measure. Pending its passage, more companies should follow Garlock's example and fight back against wrongful claims.