While just a glimpse of asbestos trust awards and settlements was provided by a recently unsealed database, the information could prove useful to Madison County asbestos defense attorneys as they litigate and prepare settlements in the future.
Defense attorney Lisa LaConte of Heyl Royster in Edwardsville said the information in the Garlock Sealing Technologies database either confirmed values they assumed were being paid to claimants by the asbestos bankruptcy trusts or opened a door to new information.
“Without that information, we really were operating in a vacuum,” she said.
Either way, she said the information will be helpful in determining what settlements are appropriate in some cases.
The document shows that approximately $517 million has been awarded to approximately 850 claimants who have made claims against Garlock Sealing Technologies. Of those claimants, 129 of them are Madison County asbestos plaintiffs who account for roughly 20 percent of total payouts listed in the document. They have so far received $112.9 million in compensation – for an average recovery of around $875,000 apiece, according to the database.
The database, which was recently made public in Garlock’s bankruptcy proceeding, lists names of claimants, their lawyers, how much they got from bankruptcy trusts and how much they got from “non-trust” entities such as solvent companies, among other things.
Given the nature of modern-day asbestos litigation and the bankruptcy trust system, lawyers involved in asbestos litigation did not seem surprised by what the database revealed.
LaConte said some numbers were lower than expected and some were higher than expected, but nothing was notably surprising.
For the most part, LaConte said she suspected what the database confirmed.
Bankruptcy attorney David Christian said people have become desensitized to such large numbers because it’s become the norm. A sample of 850 claimants revealed awards over half a billion dollars. Contrast those relatively few to the hundreds of thousands of asbestos claimants that have made their way through the systems and the numbers are “overwhelming,” he said.
“We get inoculated to the size of the numbers, claims and dollars. We forget how big those numbers are,” said Christian, founder of the David Christian Attorneys law firm.
“The database drives home how … the economic pressure and the logistics of dealing with the volume of claims and the dollars involved is staggering,” he added.
The massive amount of money exchanged in the asbestos system is exactly why there have been so many Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, Christian said.
Plaintiff attorneys contacted for comment on the database were unavailable.
LaConte suggests the database and its information will help in the fight for transparency as it reveals the usefulness and fairness of shared information in asbestos litigation.
The database could also prove helpful in future asbestos litigation by providing information about settlements and potential set offs for cases listed, which isn’t typically available in Madison County.
Christian also believes information available in the database will encourage defendants to pursue similar information in claims brought against them and encourage courts and legislators to allow more transparency.
He said Garlock spent years trying to get information without success until Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges allowed discovery. Now, those future requests for discovery may be taken more seriously.
“[The database] provides precedence for that kind of disclosure and use of federal court discovery powers that others may very well make use of,” Christian said.
“It provides courts with a reasoned basis for authorizing that discovery,” he added.
Christian said the database also is significant because it shows how Garlock used the compiled settlement and trust award information to “point out that a statistically significant number of the claims pursued against Garlock are being compensated by other defendants over claimant trusts.”
He said the data proved so useful that the macro list of information allowed Garlock to identify micro examples for defense in its bankruptcy proceeding.
In fact, Garlock used the information to determine which cases it wanted to pursue with full discovery, which turned out to be the 15 cases that revealed a “startling pattern of misrepresentation.”
Because of what Garlock discovered in the database, Christian said the dynamics of asbestos litigation today and the attitudes of courts and parties towards transparency have changed.
Also unique to the Garlock bankruptcy case, was the support it received from the Future Claims Representative. Christian suggested that with the help of the database, the FCR was able to better evaluate a “fair deal” for future claimants with information that would typically not be available.
“That is so different from the traditional ways these cases are handled,” he said.
Identified as the “Supplemental Settlement Payment Spreadsheet,” the database provides details from a sample of 850 of 1,000 randomly selected claimants who responded to a questionnaire requested by economic consulting firm Bates White as part of the discovery process for gasket manufacturer Garlock, a company forced into bankruptcy in 2010 by the weight of asbestos claims litigation.
Those 850 claimants from across the country – representing a small portion of past and current claims – have so far been awarded $334,711,143 in the court system and $182,259,276 from the bankruptcy trust system, for a total of $516,970,419.
The database was made public as part of Hodges’ order unsealing evidence in the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.