John O'Brien Jun. 8, 2015, 3:42pm


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.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Philadelphia was an especially tough jurisdiction for Garlock Sealing Technologies to litigate asbestos claims, a lawyer who worked for the company testified.

During a 2013 trial that would determine how much the company would put in a bankruptcy trust to compensate asbestos victims, John A. Turlik told a bankruptcy court that since-changed procedures in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania put the company and other defendants at a disadvantage.

Turlik, of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney in Philadelphia, began serving as Garlock’s trial counsel in 1989. His testimony took place on July 31-Aug. 1 in 2013 and was unsealed earlier this year.

“Philadelphia was a very difficult jurisdiction for defendants for a number of reasons,” Turlik said during his testimony.

“Cases were brought in from other jurisdictions that were less plaintiff-friendly and tried in Philadelphia, and then there were consolidated trials where you could have up to 10 cases tried at once.

“Generally, it wasn’t that large but you would still have multiple defendants or plaintiffs being tried together.”

As a result of Turlik’s and other arguments put forth by Garlock, Judge George Hodges ordered the company to put $125 million in its trust to compensate asbestos victims. The figure was more than $1 billion less than plaintiffs attorneys had argued for.

Hodges ruled that plaintiffs attorneys had been manipulating the recovery system – telling one story regarding their clients' exposures to asbestos in civil lawsuits while hiding claims clients made to bankruptcy trusts.

Hodges' landmark January 2014 ruling was preceded by racketeering lawsuits filed by Garlock against several asbestos firms, including the Shein Law Center of Philadelphia.

Turlik testified about several issues that led the American Tort Reform Association to name Philadelphia its No. 1 Judicial Hellhole in its 2010 and 2011 annual reports.

A 2012 ruling by the state Supreme Court rejected the every exposure theory that states every exposure to asbestos, no matter how small, contributed to the plaintiff’s disease.

That ruling would have made Garlock’s low-dose defense “even stronger than it was,” Turlik said.

The practice of finding defendants joint and severally liable was another gripe for defendants in the state. It ended when the state General Assembly passed the Fair Share Act.

The doctrine of joint and several liability requires defendants to pay the share of a verdict that a co-defendant can’t afford, no matter what percentage of liability is assessed to both.

The Fair Share Act changed that. Now, a defendant that is less than 60 percent liable only pays its share.

Also gone from Philadelphia asbestos lawsuits is reverse bifurcation, which set up a trial to determine damages before a trial to determine liability.

“When you had a defendant like Garlock in the case, there was – there was no real defense in a mesothelioma case,” Turlik said.

“The person has it, but the jury is hearing all this information about how horrible asbestos is. It inflames their passions and it allows the jury verdicts to become large.

“Verdicts in Pennsylvania were $8 (million), $12 million, they were all over the place. There were low verdicts. There were high verdicts.

“But it was very difficult for that jury then who has become vested in this person, in this disease, in this verdict to then turn around and throw that verdict out. It happened, but it was very difficult.”

Reverse bifurcation was started to help with a backlog of cases in Philadelphia. Once there was a damages verdict, it was supposed to encourage a settlement, Turlik said.

“But as the thermal insulation defendants left the litigation, the liability trial was still needed,” he added.

“And so the courts realized that this was prejudicial to these defendants, that you – that you had these large verdicts that you were having to negotiate off of, and that was not necessarily saving the court any time.”

Another development in Pennsylvania mentioned by Turlik is court decisions that allow offsets in verdicts to reflect how much the plaintiff has recovered from bankruptcy trusts.

In 2012, ATRA did not name Philadelphia to its Hellhole list. It hasn’t appeared on the annual report since.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach editor John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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