Cook County Record

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Database provides insight into how much asbestos claims are worth

By The Cook County Record | May 22, 2015

A recently unsealed database showing the awards of hundreds of claimants from bankruptcy trusts and non-trust entities provides a glimpse of the staggering amount of money generated by the business of asbestos.

Cook County asbestos claimants listed in the database and represented by the firm of Cooney & Conway, for instance, each have received on average almost $1.68 million, according to the database.

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, 34 of the claimants were or are represented by Cooney & Conway in Chicago, and have collected settlements with a total value of $57.1 million. Those same claimants received almost $21.3 million from various bankruptcy trusts.

They obtained awards from an average of 16 trusts and an average of 15 non-trust entities, or solvent companies.

Claimant John Murphy, through his widow, Evelyn Murphy, filed his lawsuit in Cook County in 2009, and he earned the highest payout when compared to the other local Cooney & Conway cases. Receiving settlements from 72 non-trust entities in court, he earned $3.9 million in Cook County. He also obtained awards from 20 separate trusts totaling almost $674,000. In all, Murphy was awarded more than $4.5 million for his asbestos-related claim.

Roughly 13 plaintiffs litigating their cases in Cook County – of the 34 reviewed – received settlements totaling more than $2 million.

When combined with trust payouts, there were two claimants listed in the database who were represented by Cooney & Conway, in addition to Murphy, who received more than $3 million from bankruptcy trusts and non-trust entities.

-          Ronald Jurgeto was awarded $3.2 million.

-          Clovis Ramey was awarded $3.05 million.

Claimants represented by the Simmons firm in Madison County also logged large settlements, according to the database, as reported by the Madison County Record.

Seventy-five of the claimants were or are represented by the Simmons law firm in East Alton.

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.

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.

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. Legal Newsline and the Madison County Record are associate publications of the Cook County Record. Heather Isringhausen Gvillo contributed to this report.

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