A settlement has been reached in a landmark asbestos bankruptcy case playing out in Charlotte. The case has drawn national attention after exposing how some victims’ lawyers abused the legal system.
Since the 1970s, asbestos lawsuits have played a role in about 100 companies going bankrupt, according to a government report. One of them was called Garlock, a gasket maker whose parent company, EnPro, is based in Charlotte.
Two years ago, a federal bankruptcy judge found Garlock’s experiences being sued were "infected by the manipulation of exposure evidence by plaintiffs and their lawyers."
Rick Magee represents Garlock.
"In each of the 15 cases where we were able to get significant discovery, (Judge George Hodges) found that we had demonstrated suppression of evidence that he found troubling," Magee says.
That’s part of the history that led lawyers representing mesothelioma victims to estimate Garlock should still owe more than $1 billion. The judge, noting the past shenanigans, estimated Garlock should only owe $125 million.
Now the sides are settling for $480 million. Joe Grier represents people with claims against Garlock.
"If you get $480 million, that’s many multiples of what the court found was sufficient," he says, "so we think we got a good number."
Grier’s focus was making sure enough money would be left for the people who’ll develop mesothelioma or other diseases in the future. It can take decades after asbestos exposure for that to happen.
From Garlock’s perspective, Magee says the settlement amount is acceptable compared to fighting in court for years to come.
"It would’ve been very, very costly and certainly the best way to get there more quickly was to reach a consensual deal," he says. "And it will be comprehensive. It will cover Garlock and every other EnPro business that’s ever even been mentioned in an asbestos lawsuit."
A bankruptcy judge will need to approve the settlement plan. If that happens, Garlock will drop the lawsuits it filed against the firms who withheld evidence from it. Those firms either declined our interview requests or did not respond.