Md. court puts stipulations on reducing asbestos verdict

John O'Brien Mar. 30, 2011, 10:35am


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) - Maryland's highest court says an asbestos award should only be reduced to reflect prior settlements with bankrupt companies if those companies admitted liability.

Scapa Dryer Fabrics wanted a $1,684,415 verdict in favor of Carl Saville reduced, and the Maryland Court of Appeals complied - to an extent - in its March 23 opinion. Companies that have gone through bankruptcy but are frequent defendants in asbestos lawsuits have set up trusts to pay claimants.

"(T)he substance of the settlement agreements between Mr. Saville and any and all (bankruptcy) trusts will determine the amount of the reduction of the judgment," Judge Clayton Greene wrote.

"(W)e... direct that on remand to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the court should: (1) permit discovery for all settlement agreements between Mr. Saville and (bankruptcy) trusts; (2) and reduce the judgment... noting that denials of liability with no provisions for treatment of the trust as a joint tortfeasor will result in no offset for that particular trust..."

Scapa requested reductions from: the Celotex Asbestos Trust in the amount of $67,100.00; Eagle Pitcher Industries Personal Injury Trust for $20,000.00; Combustion Engineering 524 (g) Personal Injury Trust for $8,423.32; H.K. Porter, Inc. Asbestos Trust for $920.00; Haliburton/Harbison Walker (unknown settlement amount due to a redacted release form provided by Saville); and the Johns Mansville Personal Injury Settlement Trust for $17,500.00.

The verdict has already been reduced to reflect the Celotex, H.K. Porter and Johns Manville settlements.

Scapa made other requests of the Court of Appeals, but all were denied.

First, it challenged the Court of Special Appeals' ruling regarding exposure to Saville. Scapa said Saville's evidence was not strong enough to prove that the company's product exposed him to asbestos using the "frequency, regularity, proximity" test. The Court of Appeals found there was more than enough evidence.

The Court of Special Appeals had also ruled that Scapa's post-trial motion on cross-claims against three settling co-defendants was invalid because there was never a motion for judgment.

Scapa said admissions from Saville had proved the co-defendants' liability. The Court of Special Appeals called them "statements of fact" and not conclusive evidence of liability.

"The jury... was still required to weigh the evidence in light of prevailing law," Greene wrote.

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