Ford Motor Co. joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in seeking transcripts of a trial in which a bankruptcy judge ruled the “impropriety of some law firms” representing asbestos personal-injury plaintiffs led to “unfairly inflating recoveries against” Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC, a unit of EnPro Industries Inc.
The Chamber of Commerce’s Legal Newsline filed papers early this month asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George R. Hodges in Charlotte, North Carolina, to unseal the January trial transcript. Before the trial, Hodges ruled that the proceeding would be closed to the public.
Ford joined the fray on March 14, saying it “may have been induced into inflated settlement in some of the same cases” that Hodges reviewed in his opinion. For possible use in cases where Ford paid asbestos settlements, the automaker wants Hodges to unseal the transcript, trial exhibits and disclosures by the asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers about their clients.
Aetna Inc., the insurance company, filed last month for lists of the lawyers’ asbestos clients.
Hodges said in his January decision that claimants’ lawyers previously withheld evidence about the comparative degree of exposure to Garlock’s products. Legal Newsline said Hodges’s opinion made “misconduct by asbestos plaintiffs and their lawyers the focus of national debate.”
The official committee of Garlock asbestos claimants last week asked Hodges to throw out Legal Newsline’s March filing. According to the committee, the publication already has an appeal pending from the judge’s decision to close the trial to the public and that should bar the publication from seeking the same relief.
Hodges said in his January opinion that $125 million was the “reasonable and reliable” estimate of present and future liability for mesothelioma claims. The asbestos claimants sought almost $1.3 billion.
Garlock, based in Palmyra, New York, filed for Chapter 11 protection in June 2010 and later submitted a reorganization plan for full payment of present and future asbestos personal- injury claims. The plan addresses 100,000 asbestos claims.
EnPro stock has climbed since Hodges issued his ruling. The shares, which closed at $58.78 the day before his opinion, rose 46 cents to $72.47 yesterday in New York trading.
EnPro had assets of $1.39 billion and liabilities of $779.3 million on its Dec. 31 balance sheet. Net income last year was $27 million on revenue of $1.144 billion.
EnPro makes engineered products, including diesel and natural-gas engines. It has operations in the U.S. and 10 other countries.
The Garlock case is In re Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC, 10-bk-31607, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District North Carolina (Charlotte).
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