Editor’s note: This article is part of a series examining evidence submitted in Garlock Sealing Technologies’ bankruptcy proceeding that was recently unsealed as a result of Legal Newsline’s legal challenge.
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - A recently unsealed database showing the awards of hundreds of claimants from bankruptcy trusts and solvent asbestos defendants provides a glimpse of the staggering amount of money generated by the business of asbestos.
Madison County, Ill., asbestos claimants represented by the Simmons firm, for instance, have received on average more than $800,000 apiece, according to the database.
Madison County's courthouse is known as the nation's busiest asbestos docket.
Identified as the “Supplemental Settlement Payment Spreadsheet,” the document provides details from a sample of 850 of 1,000 randomly selected claimants who responded to a questionnaire requested by economic consulting firm Bates White as part of the discovery process for gasket manufacturer Garlock, a company forced into bankruptcy in 2010 by the weight of asbestos claims litigation.
Those 850 claimants from across the country – representing just a sliver of the asbestos claimant universe – have so far been awarded $334,711,143 in the court system and $182,259,276 from the bankruptcy trust system, for a total of $516,970,419.
The database was made public as part of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges’ order unsealing evidence in the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
Garlock sought bankruptcy protection to escape increasing settlement awards and jury verdicts which it blamed on plaintiff attorneys who were allegedly withholding evidence of other company culpability.
Hodges agreed, finding that the amount of previous awards and settlements paid by Garlock in the civil justice system were not reliable because plaintiffs’ attorneys had withheld evidence of their clients’ exposure to asbestos-containing products manufactured by other companies in order to maximize recovery against Garlock.
Among other things, the database lists names of claimants, their lawyers, how much they got from bankruptcy trusts and how much they got from “non-trust” entities such as solvent companies.
Of the 850 questionnaires returned per Garlock’s discovery request, 75 of the claimants were or are represented by the Simmons law firm in East Alton, Ill.
Of those claimants, 38 had lawsuits filed in Madison County with a total value of $21.7 million. Those same 38 claimants received $8,859,879 from various bankruptcy trusts.
In total, they received $30,559,979, for an average per claimant payout of $804,207.
They obtained awards from an average of 13 trusts and an average of 13 non-trust entities, or solvent companies.
Claimant Bobby Lee Jones of Indiana filed his lawsuit in Madison County on Dec. 17, 2009, and he earned the highest payout when compared to the other local Simmons cases. Receiving settlements from more than 19 non-trust entities in court, he earned $2,031,250 in Madison County. He also obtained awards from 29 separate trusts totaling $882,400. In all, Jones was awarded just under $3 million for his mesothelioma claim.
Jones alleges he was exposed to asbestos-containing products during his career as a laborer, substitute teacher, division director and chief operating officer from 1970 to 2009. Jones also alleges secondary asbestos exposure from his father when he was a child, who worked as a laborer at Rockwell Spring & Axle and as a mechanic at a service station from 1959 to 1979.
Roughly 10 plaintiffs litigating their cases in Madison County – of the 38 reviewed – received settlements totaling more than $1 million. Two of those 10 are Illinois residents.
Additionally, plaintiff William Harris only received payment from one bankruptcy trust but was awarded more than $1 million in settlements in Madison County. Harris, of Illinois, obtained $26,250 from an unknown trust and $1,681,000 from just six Madison County settlements with solvent companies.
Harris filed his complaint on March 29, 2010, alleging he was exposed to asbestos-containing products while working as a machine operator and janitor from 1970 to 1989. He later developed mesothelioma as a result.
When combined with trust payouts, there were four local Simmons claimants who received more than $2 million from bankruptcy trusts and non-trust entities.
- Donald Bolliger was awarded $2,730,932.
- William Warren was awarded $2,079,269
- Leonard Adams was awarded $2,187,688
- Larry Wayne Wright was awarded $2,522,517
Bolliger obtained one of the largest settlement totals from Madison County, obtaining $2,171,500 from 40 non-trust entities. He was also awarded $559,432 from 20 separate trusts.
Bolliger, of Missouri, filed his complaint on May 13, 2010, alleging he developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure while working as a laborer and engineer from 1940 to 2000.
Wright appears to be the only plaintiff alleging asbestos-related colon cancer. Wright, of Illinois, filed his lawsuit on Dec. 20, 2010, alleging he was exposed to asbestos-containing products when he worked as a construction worker from 1968 to 1979. His complaint failed to mention Garlock as a defendant, so it is possible that another Simmons case carries the same plaintiff name in another jurisdiction.
Also, four plaintiffs were listed in the database as lung cancer cases, while all but one listed mesothelioma as the asbestos-related disease in their complaints. Regardless, the payout information for these cases was not provided.
Hodges’ order opening the record came after U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. ruled in favor of Legal Newsline and others, concluding that evidence alleging fraud on the part of asbestos attorneys should never have been sealed.
Cogburn, a President Barack Obama-appointee who took the bench in 2011, ruled that sealing documents and witness testimony is the exception, not the rule, to handling confidential information. As a result, he reversed Hodges’ previous denial of the motions seeking access to evidence admitted under seal. After a lengthy redaction process, the record was unsealed this spring.