A producer of asbestos-containing products is fighting a judge’s decision to hide the names of claimants in a dozen bankruptcy cases.
Garlock Sealing Technologies, a subsidiary of EnPro Industries Inc., is appealing a bankruptcy judge’s decision to keep anonymous the identities of thousands of asbestos claimants in 12 bankruptcy cases.
The Charlotte-based company wants to make public the records of the tens of thousands of claimants and believes the plaintiffs are using their anonymity to receive more settlement incomes from other separate claims. Garlock makes compression packing, gaskets, hydraulic components, rubber expansion joints and mechanical and oil seals.
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Privacy is a Priority
Judge Judith Fitzgerald cited a concern for “privacy of personal-health information” as a reason to keep the claimants’ information private. Fitzgerald’s ruling allows the lawyers of the claimants to file the names and claims off the public docket, which conceals the information from the public.
The claimants are alleging asbestos exposure from Garlock’s products caused injuries and health issues. Mesothelioma, a cancer that has no known cure and is diagnosed in more than 2,000 Americans each year, is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos.
According to the judge’s ruling, Garlock’s attorneys cannot demonstrate how the claimants are blaming different defendants for being the cause of their health issues and injuries. Experts state that knowing the identities of the claimants can lower the settlement costs, which would benefit Garlock and EnPro.
The soaring legal costs associated with previous asbestos cases were the reason Garlock sought bankruptcy protection. Before seeking bankruptcy status, the company was paying approximately $80 million per year to settle asbestos-related cases.
Executives from EnPro Industries Inc. believe that the judge was incorrect in her ruling.
Opposition to the Ruling
“We are confident the judge applied the wrong legal standard. She failed to follow the fundamental rule that, except in rare circumstances that don’t apply here, papers filed in federal courts are subject to public access,” said Steve Macadam, president and CEO of EnPro Industries Inc.
Normally, the identities of claimants and creditors in bankruptcy cases are made public.
“All we want is transparency — let the world see who claims injury at the hands of bankrupt asbestos defendants and what they said about their exposures,” Macadam said.
The cases involving Garlock are exemplary of a larger litigation trend involving manufacturers of asbestos-containing products. Since the 1970s, when the actual dangers of asbestos exposure became well known, the number of mesothelioma diagnoses and asbestos litigation cases grew.
Worldwide, the number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak around 2020. Asbestos is known to be in hundreds of products and materials that are still used today. Restrictions exist on how asbestos can be used, but the toxic material is not banned in its entirety.