Second Company Accuses Asbestos Lawyers Of Racketeering

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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.

Crane’s suit mirrors the racketeering lawsuit Garlock filed against both firms in 2014, accusing lawyers of hiding evidence their clients had been exposed to amphibole asbestos fibers common in the insulation used to wrap pipes and boilers, in order to win bigger verdicts and big settlements against the gasket makers. Once they completed those cases, records show lawyers often filed claims with trusts set up by bankrupt companies in which their clients stated, under penalty of perjury, that they had in fact been exposed to insulation and other products.

None of this would have come to light if a bankruptcy judge in North Carolina hadn’t agreed to Garlock’s request for records from bankruptcy trusts of other companies to show it was being asked to pay too much to asbestos claimants in its case. That judge, after criticizing what he called a process “infected by the manipulation of exposure evidence,” slashed Garlock’s liability from $1.4 billion to $125 million.

Plaintiff lawyers protest that Garlock, and now Crane, are manipulating the facts themselves to paint as fraudulent perfectly legal tactics designed to produce the most compensation for clients who are dying of mesothelioma, a cancer of the pleural lining that can be caused by long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. It makes sense to delay bankruptcy filings, which require a lower standard of proof than a full-blown, adversarial jury trial, until those trials are completed, they say. And they have no obligation to help defendant companies make the case against their own liability, those lawyers say.

“Accusing the attorneys at Simon Greenstone of engaging in wrongdoing is a cynical effort by John Crane to drive Simon Greenstone out of the courtroom and convince other trial lawyers to pull their punches,” said the firm, which claims it has won $100 million in jury verdicts against Crane, and has its own countersuit pending against Garlock for allegedly failing to disclose the dangers of asbestos.

“John Crane’s allegation that dying mesothelioma claimants, most of whom were Navy veterans, lied under oath, is false and offensive, and is the ultimate insult upon injury to the many people juries have found John Crane fatally poisoned,” Simon Greenstone said in a prepared statement.

No one from the Shein Law Center was immediately available to comment, but the firm has previously denied using fraudulent tactics.

Crane’s lawsuit details what it says is a scheme to hide evidence that jurors might have used to reduce its liability for asbestos. Mesothelioma victim David Keleman sued Crane in Los Angeles in 2008, for example, and won a $30 million jury verdict the following year. During the trial and appeal process his lawyers filed work histories showing he was exposed only to the products of non-bankrupt companies, Crane says, and Keleman denied being exposed to amphibole insulation or asbestos-containing brake pads even as his lawyers were filing claims with the bankruptcy trusts of companies that made those products.

After Crane appealed, attorney Brian Barrow told the court the jury had “no substantial evidence” to “allocate fault to any other entity,” even though by that time lawyers had filed six claims with bankruptcy trusts.

In another case, plaintiff Charles Hill denied under oath in 2013 that he’d been exposed to Garlock gaskets, saying he only worked with Crane products. By then Garlock had filed for bankruptcy. Weeks later, he signed an affidavit stating he “personally removed, replaced and installed Garlock Inc., asbestos-containing gaskets.”

Crane obtained the affidavit after the Garlock documents were opened to the public and Crane won the trial in November 2014, in what it says is an example of how important such evidence is to defend against asbestos claims.

It’s easy to dismiss such cases as retaliatory strikes but there’s at least one example where suing the lawyers worked. In 2012, railroad operator CSX won a $429,000 RICO verdict against ruled against attorneys Robert Peirce and Louis Raimond, as well as radiologist Ray Harron, a physician who supplied diagnoses for tens of thousands of questionable asbestos claims. And as I’ve reported, a federal judge in Alabama recently issued a blistering ruling against a labor-rights lawyer suing Drummond Industries after that company uncovered evidence in its own countersuit that witnesses in the case had received tens of thousands of dollars in undisclosed payments around the time they were testifying.

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