More than 20,000 individuals who have asbestos-related tort claims pending against the Robert A. Keasbey Co. scored a major victory Tuesday, as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun ruled that the defunct insulation giant’s insurers may be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in coverage.
The ruling came in an unusual defendant class action — in which the class constitutes a defendant, not the plaintiff — initiated by the Keasbey Co.’s primary insurers, plaintiffs Continental Casualty Coverage and American Casualty Co. of Reading, Pa.
In their class action, the insurers sought a declaratory judgment holding that their policies were exhausted by $8.7 million in previously made payments. In the alternative, they argued, numerous equitable doctrines precluded the defendant class members from pursuing their claims.
Braun disagreed, and found that the insurers may be liable for upwards of $250 million.
Louis Robles, a nationally prominent Miami plaintiffs attorney who was charged with stealing millions of dollars from thousands of asbestos clients nationwide, has accepted a plea deal that calls for him to serve 10 years in prison and provide full restitution to his victims. The plea deal is the latest chapter in the spectacular fall of the class action and mass tort lawyer, who at one time had 40 lawyers on his staff and more than 12,000 class action clients.
An Ohio state court judge upbraided the Brayton Purcell law firm in Novato, Calif., and one of its partners Thursday, finding that they lied to the court, submitted fraudulent asbestos claim forms and broke other rules.
As a result, the judge said in a published ruling that they had forfeited pro hac vice privileges to practice law in the asbestos litigation hotbed of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County.
Judge Harry Hanna’s ruling offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a heated discovery fight, one that portrays the plaintiffs firm and partner Christopher Andreas as sloppy and deceitful in their representation of the estate of Harry Kananian, who died from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
The decision won’t put an end to the underlying claims Kananian’s estate brought against Lorillard Tobacco, maker of Kent cigarettes. But it jeopardizes the ability of Andreas and the Brayton firm to practice in the Ohio county, which includes Cleveland; whether the ruling will sully their reputations elsewhere is unclear.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a proposed class action suit against a group of lawyers from southern states brought by more than 2,600 former clients from northern states who say they were cheated out of their fair share of $400 million in asbestos personal injury settlements in the Mississippi state courts when the lawyers gave larger payouts to southern plaintiffs.
Reversing a lower court’s decision that dismissed the suit, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth issued a stern lecture to lawyers about the duty of loyalty.
“We are embarrassed to have to explain a matter so elementary to the legal profession that it speaks for itself: All attorneys in a co-counsel relationship individually owe each and every client the duty of loyalty. For it to be otherwise is inconceivable,” Roth wrote in Huber v. Taylor.
The case provides a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of asbestos litigation in which plaintiffs are termed “inventory” and settlements often involve hundreds or even thousands of cases.
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – About a decade ago, a radiologist in this small town gradually stopped seeing patients and instead adopted what turned out to be a much more lucrative practice: reading X-rays full time.
The doctor, Ray A. Harron, now 73 years old, reviewed as many as 150 X-rays a day, or one every few minutes, and produced medical reports for $125 each. Some of his reports supported claims by more than 75,000 people seeking compensation for lung injury caused by inhalation of asbestos. For his work, he probably earned millions of dollars over the years.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers who have used Dr. Harron’s services recently did not return phone calls seeking comment. But in the eyes of defense lawyers fighting some of those claims, Dr. Harron was not a professional rendering an independent opinion, but a vital cog in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit machine. They contend that Dr. Harron’s X-ray evaluations are unreliable at best, fraudulent at worst.
The defense lawyers are not the only ones who have questioned Dr. Harron’s work. This summer, a federal judge found that Dr. Harron “failed to write, read, or personally sign” reports supporting 6,350 claims by people saying they had inhaled silica, another potentially dangerous material.
Life may never be the same for lawyers who litigate silica and asbestos cases.
With the passing of the World War II shipyard generation, which made up the bulk of past asbestos cases, and more than 80 asbestos defendants in bankruptcy or out of business, plaintiffs are digging deeper to find new defendants in specialized industries responsible for different kinds of asbestos illness.
It won’t be easy.
“Nanomania,” one could call it — the growing excitement and anxiety about super-small gadgets that might transform our world for better or worse.
Two decades ago, techno-visionaries titillated the world with their prophecy of machines so small — measurable in nanometers, or billionths of a meter — that they’d be invisible to the naked eye. Nano-robots, they speculated, would patrol your bloodstream and attack viruses, cholesterol and tumors; or they’d clean up oil slicks and toxic spills; or they’d become micro-“spies” for monitoring enemy movements without being seen.
For now, however, those science-fiction-like dreams remain just that — dreams. Today’s nano-visionaries face a less heady dilemma: How to reassure the public, environmental groups, regulatory agencies and lawsuit-fearing insurance companies that nanotechnologies won’t become environmental-political-legal nightmares like DDT, thalidomide and asbestos.
Lawyers are gearing up for a constitutional challenge to a new state law that could remove nearly 3,000 asbestos cases from Fulton County dockets.
The law was designed to stem the tide of out-of-state asbestos claims being filed in Georgia, said its primary sponsor, Rep. David E. Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
“We were seeing a huge number of people that were nonresidents of Georgia and that had not been exposed to asbestos or silica in Georgia who were suing in Georgia courts,” said Ralston. . . .
[O]ne plaintiffs’ attorney, David P. Bevon of Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C., said out-of-state plaintiffs filed in Georgia because the law here was more favorable than in other states for injuries that occurred years or even decades ago. He also noted that some defendants, such as Georgia-Pacific, are based here.
The new law, signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on April 12 and codified at chapter 51-14 of the Georgia Code, prevents future suits from out-of-state plaintiffs. But because it applies retroactively, the constitutional fight is over the impact the law could have on cases that already have been filed.
The law added a host of new requirements for asbestos claims to survive in the state’s courts. Among the new rules, a plaintiff must present “prima facie evidence of physical impairment” that shows “to a reasonable degree of certainty” that exposure to asbestos was “a substantial contributing factor” to the plaintiff’s injuries. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have until Oct. 19 — or 180 days from the enactment of the bill — to file affidavits establishing the prima facie evidence.
A San Francisco jury says a bulldozer operator with mesothelioma should be paid $2.2 million for his injuries in what a plaintiff attorney calls the first verdict in the nation involving asbestos exposure from Caterpillar Inc. machinery.
Philip A. Harley of Paul, Hanley & Harley said Caterpillar’s portion of the judgment should be about $900,000 because the jury found it only partially liable.
According to Harley, plaintiff Daniel Johnson was exposed to asbestos from Caterpillar bulldozers while doing brake work and other maintenance. Harley said in a post-verdict statement that Johnson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2004 and was recently told he will only live another three to six months.
AMERICAN companies that produce silica, an ingredient of builder�s sand, have seen a massive surge in lawsuits this year as personal injury and class action lawyers claim that the dusty substance could be as deadly as asbestos.
The number of claims rose to about 30,000 this year from fewer than 10,000 last year. One company, US Silica, has been hit with 22,000 claims, up from 3,505 a year ago.
The Times of London reports this dreadful news here.