Asbestos defendants want automatic access to info in bankruptcy trusts

Lois Kapila Dec. 13, 2010, 8:48am



While asbestos lawyers defend a claims system that distributes approximately $18 billion worth of assets within bankruptcy trusts, defendant manufacturers outside the trusts are calling for automatic access to information as a means of keeping the payment system fair and honest.

Jacob C. Cohn of Cozen O'Connor in Philadelphia argues that a lack of transparency has meant that "peripheral" defendants, ones with little connection to asbestos claimants, have been unfairly forced to make larger payouts.

That lack of transparency also obscures potential abuses within compensation systems, he said.

"We need to be able to establish the percentage of fault," Cohn said. "Without the information, we can't fairly compensate victims, and allocate responsibility to parties."

While liability laws differ across jurisdictions, Cohn said that many claimants have successfully managed to hold peripheral defendants liable for their entire award, even when their share of liability was comparatively minor. He criticizes the asbestos plaintiff's bar for hampering defendants in the tort system from obtaining information concerning the claims plaintiffs are making against bankruptcy trusts, and the details of those claims, as well as the amounts these plaintiffs have received or will receive from trusts.

An increasingly frequent complaint against plaintiff lawyers is the claim that they are gaming the system by delaying filing claims with trusts, until their tort cases have been concluded, thereby managing to prevent that information from becoming public, and claim twice without any offsets or reductions for the defendant.

Retired Madison Country Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who is also a candidate to serve as one of three trustees on the Flintkote Asbestos Bankruptcy Trust, sees no way out of this problem.

"I don't see how it is possible to demand they submit all of their claims before the case opens," Stack said.

Read the complete story at Legal Newsline.

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