CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - A California lawyer specializing in asbestos claims took the witness stand Wednesday and offered a differing narrative behind Garlock Sealing Technologies litigation strategy than that of witnesses who testified for the gasket manufacturing company in the company's ongoing bankruptcy trial.
David McClain, a partner with the firm Kazan, McClain Satterly Lyons Greenwood & Oberman, said that legal strategies the company once relied on to help them win trials became ineffective as the litigation landscape changed when other asbestos companies began filing for bankruptcy - something that former Garlock asbestos lawyers testifying for the company agreed with.
McClain, however, attributed the changing landscape that drove Garlock's settlement costs up to changes in the law rendering most of the defenses the company previously had ineffectual. In California, evolving case law led to a much lower threshold to cross for plaintiffs wanting to sue manufacturers of asbestos products, he said, and not just because there was a shrinking pool of defendant companies. All plaintiffs had to show in his state was that the company's gaskets increased the risk of developing mesothelioma, he said, which was relatively easy to do. That alone was enough incentive for Garlock to avoid trials.
Richard Magee, the senior vice president for EnPro, Garlock's parent company, who previously oversaw much of Garlock's asbestos tort litigation had already testified that Garlock decided to settle the bulk of its claims as a cost-saving measure. Magee testified he thought the company could have won the majority of these claims if they went to trial but decided against it because it would have been cheaper to settle. He said the company only went to trial with claimants who wanted more money than the group settlements the company agreed to.
The bankruptcy trial, which began two weeks ago at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina and is expected to last three weeks, will determine the estimated liability of the company for current and future asbestos claims. One of the central questions that will help establish how much Garlock will owe the claimants revolves around whether Garlock products, many removed decades ago, and no other sources of asbestos, led to cases of mesothelioma.
After McClain's testimony, attorneys representing the plaintiffs called famed asbestos lawyer Joe Rice, a man the Wall Street Journal once referred to as an "asbestos-bar lion." On direct examination, Rice said that Garlock's proposed plan for instituting a trust to compensate pending and future mesothelioma claimants was "basically forcing everyone to take $1,000 or go home."