The worst public scandals are often those that travel in plain sight, and a prime example is the asbestos litigation racket. We’ve been writing about it for years, and now a judge in North Carolina has issued a remarkable opinion exposing just how rotten it is.
The case involves Garlock Sealing Technologies, a gasket maker forced into bankruptcy in 2010 by a flood of bogus claims. Plaintiffs lawyers were insisting that Garlock set aside $1.3 billion for victims of the deadly asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma. Last month federal bankruptcy judge George Hodges instead accepted Garlock’s liability estimate of $125 million and roasted the plaintiffs bar for dishonesty.
With the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform passed into law, environmental activists are developing lists of chemicals they want banned in short order. Asbestos are near the top of the list, as easy targets. After all, it seems logical to get rid of such obvious carcinogens, but it isn’t that simple. In fact, some bans could actually undermine public health and safety.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to ban all asbestos back in 1991, but a federal court overruled the agency’s proposal. That failure became a driving force for passing TSCA “reform.” Activist groups maintained that if the EPA couldn’t ban such dangerous chemicals, the law must be too weak.
Asbestos were once widely used because they have heat insulating and flame retarding effects and were beneficial in a host of building materials—including roofing, siding, insulation, and tiles—as well as machinery, from cars to spacecraft. Yet, many types have been phased out because of serious health risks. And in 1991 the EPA proposed a rule designed to ban the rest.
Was it a quid quo pro? A physician testifying this week in the trial of a former New York legislative leader accused of misusing his office to get millions in law firm referral fees didn’t expressly say so.
But Dr. Robert Taub did tell the jury that he hoped by referring asbestos patients to a law firm for which the defendant, former state Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, was counsel to strengthen a “relationship” with Silver and “incentivize” him to fund asbestos research, reports Newsday (sub. req.). An earlier Newsday (sub. req.) story provides additional details.
In a 2010, Taub, who referred dozens of patients to Weitz & Luxenberg over a 10-year period, said in an email to an asbestos victims advocate that “I will keep giving cases to Shelly because I may need him in the future—he is the most powerful man in New York State.”
Although the law firm never gave Taub any grant money and is not accused of any wrongdoing, Silver steered a total of $500,000 in state mesothelioma research grants to Taub in 2005 and 2006, Newsday reports. The money was paid before, rather than after, an application was initially made for a grant, according to testimony in the Manhattan case.
The 71-year-old attorney, who remains a Democratic member of the state Assembly although he has given up his longtime leadership post, faces charges of taking bribes, extortion and money-laundering. In addition to allegedly providing state asbestos research funding as a quid pro quo for asbestos patient referrals, he is accused of doing favors for developers in exchange for legal business.
During this week’s testimony, the defense pointed to a social relationship between Taub and Silver, Newsday reports. The two are both Orthodox Jews and their families spent Passover in the same hotel. But prosecutor Andrew Goldstein said at least 900 other families were there for Passover, too, and asked Taub if he and Silver became friendly before or after the asbestos case referrals began.
“The basis was the fact that I had referred patients to him,” Taub said, “and it developed from that.”
Before leaving office, former Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon wrote to outgoing Minister Environmental Protection Avi Gabai that IDF cannot afford to halt installation of asbestos replacement parts in tanks and APCs, saying no alternative exists.
Despite the danger of being exposed to carcinogens, the former Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon permitted the IDF to continue to install new parts made of asbestos in tanks and armored personnel carriers (APC). Ya’alon insisted on their installation even though outgoing Minister of Environmental Protection Avi Gabai and his staff repeatedly warned that the parts can threaten the health of soldiers and their installation is illegal.
When it comes to the selective use of scientific data to come up with unscientific policies, Europe is a world leader. A growing danger for the global economy is that the EU is trying to get the world to follow its lead on important regulatory matters.
The latest case concerns asbestos. Amphibole asbestos, one of the two broad types of the naturally occurring substance, has been generally regarded as a carcinogen and widely banned for three decades now. But only the European Union and a dozen or so other countries have banned the other type of asbestos, chrysotile. Also known as white asbestos,chrysotile remains a $600 million-a-year industry that thrives especially in Russia, China, Canada and Brazil.
That could change soon. At a five-day conference beginning tomorrow in Lyon, the U.N.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) will review a study of various synthetic chrysotile substitutes to determine whether they are safer than the real thing. In making such a comparison, one might expect the new information on the synthetics to be weighed alongside the most up-to-date data available on chrysotile itself. Yet under IARC’s mandate for the study, handed down by the World Health Organization, no new analysis of chrysotile was ordered.
A company that frequently finds itself targeted by asbestos attorneys is taking the reins on racketeering claims that allege those lawyers manipulated the system to unfairly drive up the costs of settlements and verdicts.
On Monday, John Crane Inc. filed lawsuits against at least two asbestos firms under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The basis of the claims is evidence uncovered by Garlock Sealing Technologies three years ago during its bankruptcy proceeding.
Could Sheldon Silver’s arrest help clean up the New York tort racket?
The corruption charges against former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have exposed the rotten links between politicians and trial lawyers, and that attention is bearing fruit. Witness the clarifying drama in New York’s asbestos court.
Manhattan Administrative Justice Peter Moulton recently held an unprecedented “town hall meeting” to hear complaints from dozens of defense attorneys who say New York’s asbestos docket has been rigged to favor one tort firm: Weitz & Luxenberg, the same powerhouse asbestos firm that benefited from an association with Mr. Silver.
A former New Jersey lawyer has been sentenced to serve two years in federal prison after admitting he fraudulently added defendants to more than 100 asbestos lawsuits in New York.
Federal prosecutors say Arobert Tonagbanua deleted the names of actual defendants from copies of legitimately filed asbestos complaints and added the names of clients from his Haddonfield, New Jersey, firm. Prosecutors say he then sent the doctored complaints to those clients, their representatives and insurance companies.
Removing asbestos from buildings is often an unnecessary expense and done in a panic, according to a document published on Thursday by Alkmaar’s mayor, two housing corporations and a university professor.
Removing asbestos on a major scale is expensive but does not generate much in terms of improved health, the writers say in their pamphlet. ‘If tenants could choose, they would rather have their home made more energy efficient or go for a new bathroom or kitchen than have asbestos removed,’ the pamphlet states.
A second company has accused plaintiff lawyers of using fraudulent tactics to win asbestos lawsuits, citing evidence uncovered after a federal judge opened records obtained in the bankruptcy of Garlock Sealing Technologies.
John Crane Inc., which like Garlock made industrial gaskets containing asbestos fibers, has asked a judge to allow it to join Garlock’s racketeering case against the Simon Greenstone law firm in Dallas and the Shein Law Center in Philadelphia.
Like numerous other businesses across the country, a small, long-established Hertfordshire building firm has been threatened with bankruptcy over events which allegedly took place 50 years ago – all because of a controversial judgment by the Supreme Court in 2011 which, as I warned at the time, was based on a disastrous scientific error. Based on no scientific evidence, the judges ruled in effect that all cases of mesothelioma, a nasty form of cancer, are caused by exposure to “asbestos”.
Had the judges heard any proper scientific evidence, they would firstly have known that up to 25 per cent of mesotheliomas occur naturally. But they would also have learnt the vital distinction between two very different minerals which are both loosely and unscientifically known as “asbestos”.
The “blue” and “brown” forms, fibrous iron silicates, can cause potentially lethal lung damage. But 90 per cent of “asbestos products” consist of cement bonded with “white asbestos”, a magnesium silicate, the soft fibres of which soon dissolve in the lungs and cannot cause mesothelioma.
ABC News reported on 27 March that Australia’s water consumers –just about every one of us – face an $8 billion bill to replace some 40,000kms of water pipes made with asbestos cement that are nearing the end of their useful life.
That was hardly news, as a quick Google search would have revealed; the problem has been known of years. However, as the ABC article said, these ageing pipes don’t represent a health hazard. The Foundation for Water Research reported back in 2002 that the World Health Organisation had looked at the problem in 1993, and concluded there was nothing to worry about.
House Speaker John Boehner says asbestos legal reform is a priority in the New Year, and it can’t come soon enough. Based on the details emerging from federal bankruptcy court, asbestos litigation fraud has reached new heights.
Garlock Sealing Technologies is a maker of gaskets that since its bankruptcy in 2010 has become a symbol of the corrupt practices of the plaintiffs bar. Lawyers demanded $1.3 billion in payouts from Garlock for mesothelioma patients until federal Judge George Hodges reviewed evidence showing that many of the claims were a sham. The judge in January slashed the company’s liability to $125 million and slammed the trial bar for «misrepresenting» the facts.
Then in October he moved to unseal that evidence, and now we’re getting a glimpse of what has become a widespread tort-bar con. Court documents show the ugly specifics of «double-dipping» — in which lawyers sue a company and claim its products caused their clients’ disease, even as they file claims with asbestos trusts blaming other products for the harm. This lets them get double or multiple payouts for a single illness, with a huge cut for the lawyers each time.
By Dionne Searcey, Anemona Hartocollis, Russ Buettner And David W. Chen
In the criminal complaint against Sheldon Silver, he is identified simply as “Doctor1.”
But Dr. Robert N. Taub, who headed a Columbia University center dedicated to curing a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos, is no ordinary doctor.
With a reputation as a devoted clinician intent on trying out innovative therapies, Dr. Taub is something of a hero in the world of mesothelioma, a devastating cancer that is nearly always fatal. Specializing in abdominal cases, a particularly horrific form of the disease, Dr. Taub, 78, attracted lastchance patients from across the country and the world.
The balding, bowtied oncologist would then seem to be the unlikeliest of candidates to become caught up in a criminal scheme that may lead to the downfall of Mr. Silver, the longtime speaker of the New York State Assembly and one of the state’s most powerful politicians.
— Manufacturers of products that contained chrysotile asbestos won a major victory in Crane Co. v. DeLisle in September, when Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a verdict entered against a gasket manufacturer on grounds that the trial court had abused its discretion by admitting an expert’s testimony.
— The appellate court ordered that a verdict be directed for the defendant, where the only proof of causation was expert testimony that was not supported by scientific data and therefore should not have been admitted.
— An «expert opinion is inadmissible when the only connection between the conclusion and the existing data is the expert’s own assertions.»
— The appellate court’s detailed opinion confirmed the scrutiny that judges must apply before admitting expert testimony, and it largely discredited opinions that exposure to chrysotile causes disease in humans.
Federal bankruptcy Judge George Hodges in February took a bold step against asbestos litigation fraud, and the good deeds continue. The North Carolina jurist has decided to unseal all the evidence in his high-profile asbestos case.
Asbestos claims drove gasket-maker Garlock Sealing Technologies into bankruptcy in 2010, and the tort bar demanded the company hand over $1.3 billion. Judge Hodges allowed for discovery into some of the claims and issued an opinion skewering the plaintiffs’ lawyers for a “startling pattern of misrepresentation.” He detailed how the tort bar was essentially double-dipping—filing claims with outside asbestos trusts in which they blamed non-Garlock products for their diseases, even as they blamed Garlock in court.
Yesterday saw the launch of yet another scare campaign.
As so often before championed by the BBC, it warned us again of the deadly dangers posed by asbestos — this time in Britain’s schools.
In the past 30 years, it was claimed on Radio 4’s Today programme, 178 teachers have died of asbestos-related diseases — and their numbers are rising all the time.
Steps must be taken to protect pupils and teachers from asbestos in schools, a new study has warned.
In May, Carolyn McCarthy, a nine-term congresswoman from Long Island, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her treatment began almost immediately, causing her to take a lengthy absence from her office while she fought the disease. At the same time, McCarthy, 69, ended a pack-a-day cigarette habit that she’d had for most of her life, presumably because she understood the link between cigarette-smoking and lung cancer. Scientists estimate that smoking plays a role in 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.
“Since my diagnosis with lung cancer,” she wrote in a recent legal filing, “I have had mental and emotional distress and inconvenience. I am fearful of death.” She added, “My asbestos-related condition has disrupted my life, limiting me in my everyday activities and interfering with living a normal life.”
Yes, that’s right. It’s hard these days for smokers to sue tobacco companies because everyone knows the dangers of cigarettes. Instead, McCarthy has become part of a growing trend: lung cancer victims who are suing companies that once used asbestos.
Nov. 6 — Brazil-based Eternit issued the following news release:
Eternit S.A. (BM&FBOVESPA;:ETER3;OTC:ETNTY) announces its results for the 3Q14.
Demand for construction materials increased slightly in the third quarter compared to previous quarters, according to data from the Brazilian Association of Construction Materials Industry (ABRAMAT) which, however, was not sufficient to recover from the sharp decline in sales in the first half of the year. Eternit significantly outperformed the construction materials sector, with its chrysotile mining segment operating at full capacity, while in the finished products line, production of fiber-cement and concrete tiles kept pace with demand.
Chrysotile mineral volume sold in 3Q14 was 71,600 tons, practically stable (down 1.0%) compared to 3Q13. In the same period, fiber-cement sales, including construction solutions, reached 232,800 tons, increasing 7.5% from 3Q13, whereas concrete roofing tile sales decreased 10.9%, mainly due to the lower demand in the high-end roofing segment, especially in the B2C (business-to-consumer) and building companies segments.