Tort Reform News: FORD MOTOR CO. SUSPECTS IT WAS TARGET OF ASBESTOS ATTORNEYS’ MISCONDUCT
The following is a digest of an article originally appearing at the Texans for Lawsuit Reform website. The Texas Lobby Group is posting this summary as a public service for Texans interested in tort reform.
Ford Motor Company would like to know the exact behavior shown by asbestos attorneys who apparently created “a startling pattern of misrepresentation” while investigating their clients’ lawsuits against several companies. Ford decided to recover evidence that was given during Garlock Sealing Technologies’ bankruptcy case on Friday. In 2013, Ford presented the evidence in an attempt to prove previous discoveries against the company in civil courts had been blown out of proportion because the attorneys withheld evidence that other companies were at fault for their exposure to asbestos. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges released an order in January in which he agreed with Garlock’s opinions but did not disclose the specific evidence given. Ford is now questioning if it paid more than it should have, like Garlock.
“Having reviewed the scant information presently available, it appears that Ford may have been induced into inflated settlements in some of the same cases examined by this court,” attorneys for the company explained.
“This Honorable Court having found that ‘(i)t appears certain that more extensive discovery would show more extensive abuse,’ Ford must be granted access to the information currently under seal. Indeed, this pattern of misrepresentations may have affected Ford in circumstances not yet ascertainable.”
Hodges ruled that the amount of settlements paid previously by Ford were not valid because attorneys had chosen to not disclose evidence in order to gain more recovery against Garlock. He decided that Garlock needed to add $125 million to its bankruptcy trust. “This occurrence was a result of the effort by some plaintiffs and their lawyers to withhold evidence of exposure to other asbestos products and to delay filing claims against bankrupt defendants’ asbestos trusts until after obtaining recoveries from Garlock,” Hodges wrote.
Garlock’s evidence shows us that one particular firm issued 23 pages of directions on how to testify to its clients. One lawyer apparently stated, “My duty to these clients is to maximize their recovery, okay, and the best way for me to maximize their recovery is to proceed against solvent viable non-bankrupt defendants first, and then, if appropriate, to proceed against bankrupt companies. “It appears certain that more extensive discovery would show more extensive abuse,” Hodges continued. “But that is not necessary because the startling pattern of misrepresentation that has been shown is sufficiently persuasive.
“While it is not suppression of evidence for a plaintiff to be unable to identify exposures, it is suppression of evidence for a plaintiff to be unable to identify exposure in the tort case, but then later to be able to identify it in Trust claims. It is that practice that prejudiced Garlock in the tort system.”
“(L)egitimate concerns about the disclosure of other information shown to fall within an exception can and should be addressed by redacting information, where necessary, or placing limits on subsequent disclosure,” the company argues.
“But a blanket refusal to disclose this information – to enable asbestos claimants and their attorneys to sweep this information back under the rug – will ensure that any ‘unlawful injur(ies)’ to Ford remain unredressed.”
Garlock has decided to file lawsuits against the asbestos firms that it suggests committed fraud. A hearing has been scheduled for April 17. Health insurer Aetna is Also seeking information from the bankruptcy trial.
“The public is presumptively entitled to access judicial records,” attorneys for Aetna and The Rawlings Company wrote.
“Rule 2019 Statements, along with the exhibits filed but not placed on the electronic docket, are judicial records. There is no countervailing interest to overcome the presumption that movants, as members of the public, are entitled to access the Rule 2019 Statements.”
Read the original article here.