Hawaii appeals court says aggregate settlement amount in asbestos case was sufficient

By Jessica Karmasek | Mar 31, 2017

Hawaii's Intermediate Court of Appeals in Honolulu  

HONOLULU (Legal Newsline) - This month, Hawaii’s appeals court shot down an asbestos defendant’s argument that a circuit court made a mistake when it didn’t require the plaintiffs in the case to disclose the individual settlement amounts it reached with other defendants.

A three-judge panel of the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals, or ICA, ruled March 16 that the aggregate settlement amount provided was good enough, upholding the Circuit Court of the First Circuit’s Dec. 21, 2015 order.

Judges Alexa D.M. Fujise, Lawrence M. Reifurth and Lisa M. Ginoza heard the case. In Hawaii, the ICA is the court that hears nearly all appeals from trial courts and some state agencies. It is composed of six judges who sit on panels of three.

“In the circumstances of this case, the circuit court did not err in allowing disclosure of the aggregate settlement amount for the five settling defendants, as opposed to requiring disclosure of the particular settlement amounts for each settling defendant,” the appeals court wrote in its 10-page memorandum opinion.

Plaintiff Gail K. Dias, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Manuel Alton Souza Dias, asserts claims against 24 defendants. Among them: Electrolux Home Products, General Electric Company Inc., Ingersoll Rand Co., CBS Corporation and John Crane Inc.

The plaintiffs allege the decedent, Manuel Dias, was exposed to asbestos during his employment at Hamakua Sugar Company -- once the state’s second-largest sugar plantation -- while he worked there from 1973 to 1993.

The complaint alleges the asbestos exposure caused Manuel Dias to develop malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases and injuries, which caused and/or contributed to his death.

On Oct. 28, 2015, one of the defendants, Shin Nippon Machinery Co., filed a petition, seeking a determination of good faith settlement as to a settlement between Dias and Shin Nippon.

On Nov. 10, 2015, defendants Elliot Turbomachinery Company Inc., a subsidiary of EBARA Corporation; Sterling Fluid Systems (USA) LLC, doing business as Peerless Pump Company; and Kaanapali Land LLC joined the petition.

A week later, on Nov. 17, 2015, defendant Flowserve Corporation, successor-in-interest to Rockwell Manufacturing Company, successor-in-interest to Edward Valve and Manufacturing Company, joined the petition.

Then, on Nov. 20, 2015, defendant Fisher Controls International LLC filed its statement of position objecting to the petition.

The same day, Dias filed an ex parte motion to file a document under seal in support of the petition.

Days later, on Nov. 23, 2015, the circuit court granted the motion and, on the same day, L. Richard DeRobertis, counsel for Dias, filed a declaration under seal that identified five settling defendants and the aggregate amount of the settlements.

Fisher received the declaration and, on Nov. 30, 2015, filed a supplemental statement of opposition to the petition.

On Dec. 21, 2015, the circuit court granted the petition. Fisher appealed.

Fisher argues it should have been provided with more specifics about the settlement, in particular the settlement amounts for each settling defendant.

The appeals court, pointing to a previous decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court, said the state legislature, in its writing of state law, was more interested in encouraging settlements than ensuring the equitable apportionment of liability.

But Fisher also argues the circuit court did not ensure that the company was afforded “notice and an opportunity to be heard” regarding the determination whether the settlement has been given in good faith.

The appeals court, in its ruling, pointed out that Fisher does not contest that it filed a statement of position and, after receiving the declaration from DeRobertis, subsequently filed a supplemental opposition to the petition.

“Fisher was aware of the aggregate amount, the settling parties, and the terms under the CMO-1 (Asbestos Litigation Case Management Order No. 1) for the settlement,” the three-judge panel wrote. “Fisher was present during the hearing on the petition and argued, among other things, that the settling parties should disclose the individual settlement amount.

“Given these circumstances, it appears that Fisher was provided an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.”

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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