Canadian Underwriter

Big Three automakers fighting to consolidate asbestos claims

August 22, 2002   by Canadian Underwriter

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Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors are fighting to get thousands of personal injury asbestos lawsuits out of numerous state courts and consolidated in one federal court. So far they have not succeeded.
The latest setback came early this month when the Supreme Court declined to review a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The appeals court in Philadelphia threw out the carmakers’ request to be named as “related parties” in the bankruptcy of Federal-Mogul Global Inc., one of several dozen companies driven into bankruptcy by asbestos litigation. The carmakers had hoped that by being added to the case they could consolidate thousands of asbestos lawsuits before a single bankruptcy judge in Delaware, and that the resulting trial would decide conclusively whether asbestos in brake pads posed a health risk.
Other automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW North America, Volvo, Rolls Royce Bentley Motor Cars and Nissan, had joined in the request.
Industry lawyers say the majority of the suits are baseless, but that trying each individually in state court would cost billions and expose the companies to as much as $100 billion in damages.
On a new twist to asbestos litigation, the consolidation attempts have run into fierce resistance from plaintiffs, who say each case is unique and should be considered separately. This is contrary to other battles, where plaintiffs have attempted to certify a class action, claiming that their cases aren’t unique and should be heard as one class.
Federal-Mogul, an auto parts manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy in October, 2001. At the time it was facing thousands of asbestos lawsuits.

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