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.
PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) – During its effort to prove asbestos plaintiffs attorneys had been gaming the system to earn higher verdicts and settlements, Garlock Sealing Technologies introduced evidence of three Philadelphia settlements it claimed were inflated.
Garlock was allowed to conduct discovery into the behavior of plaintiffs and attorneys who had civil lawsuits pending against the company, seeking to prove that the settlements and verdicts it paid in the past were not an indicator of future awards because asbestos attorneys were manipulating the recovery process.
In a memorandum summarizing 15 of those cases that was submitted into evidence in 2013 and recently unsealed, four cases pursued by Philadelphia’s Shein Law Center were mentioned.
Ultimately, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges ruled in Garlock’s favor, ordering the company to put $125 million into a trust for asbestos victims – roughly $1 billion less than what plaintiffs attorneys had requested.
Hodges ruled in January 2014 that attorneys have been withholding their clients’ evidence of exposure to other asbestos products made by companies that have gone bankrupt and established compensation trusts in order to make Garlock seem more responsible for their clients’ injuries than it really is.
“This occurrence was a result of the effort by some plaintiffs and their lawyers to withhold evidence of exposure to other asbestos products and to delay filing claims against bankrupt defendants’ asbestos trusts until after obtaining recoveries from Garlock,” Hodges wrote.
“It appears certain that more extensive discovery would show more extensive abuse. But that is not necessary because the startling pattern of misrepresentation that has been shown is sufficiently persuasive.”
Garlock has filed a racketeering lawsuit against the Shein Law Center, as well as similar lawsuits against three other firms.
Bernard Massinger’s $700,000 settlement
Massinger was relatively young when he contracted mesothelioma, something Garlock conceded made him a “compelling damages case.”
The argument he made in his civil lawsuit against Garlock was that he was exposed to asbestos when his father brought it home on his clothes.
As an adult, Massinger said, he was never exposed to asbestos, not even during his Air Force service from 1978-80 at bases in Lackland, Texas, and Dover, Del.
The Air Force “for the time I was in there was very proactive as far as asbestos abatement and things like that,” Massinger testified.
However, he signed an affidavit in support of trust claims that said he was exposed to asbestos-containing products at the bases. He did so in May 2009, months before his trial began.
The trust claims, Garlock said, were never disclosed to it.
The claims were filed by the firm Early Lucarelli, which had referred the case to Shein Law Center.
Benjamin Shein testified that he had an understanding with the Early firm that it would not file trust claims before Massinger’s trial was concluded, Garlock said.
“Shein testified that his firm has a practice of delaying Trust claims until after trial in order to prevent Trusts from being added to the verdict form,” the memo says.
The claims were filed with the Fibreboard and USG trusts. They were later withdrawn, though the USG claim was already approved, Garlock says.
Garlock says the lack of disclosure of the trust claims was in violation of Philadelphia discovery rules.
Overall, Massinger filed seven trust claims and four ballots based on exposures not identified to Garlock during discovery, six of which before Garlock settled, the company says.
Massinger died in October 2009 at 53 years old.
Vincent Golini’s $250,000 settlement
Golini’s settlement occurred at the same time as Massinger’s.
Golini did not identify any bankrupt companies as responsible when asked by Garlock and testified about pipe covering on ships he worked: “The condition on ships was always wonderful. There was a cast and everything was painted.”
However, Garlock says Golini, even before filing his lawsuit against Garlock, had already submitted 14 statements that said he worked in close proximity to workers manipulating asbestos-containing products.
The manufacturers of those products were companies that had established bankruptcy trusts, including Fibreboard, Owens Corning and Worthington.
Shein testified that he would not have expected for these statements to have been shared with the attorney who prepared Golini for his deposition because “Our goal is to maximize a client’s recovery… and in order to do that, what we focus on for the deposition is the viable, non-bankrupt companies. That’s our job, okay. Our goal is to do our job on behalf of our clients, okay, not to do the defendants’ job for them.”
Golini’s attorneys eventually filed 20 trust claims and four ballots.
Golini died in December 2009 at 62 years old.
John Brennan’s $250,000 settlement
Brennan’s attorneys filed trust claims and ballots based on exposures to 20 other products made by companies with bankruptcy trusts.
At least five of those were filed before Garlock settled the case, though they were never disclosed to the company.
The settlement was reached in 2010. According the court’s docket, Brennan was of Canton, N.C.
John Grabowski’s claim
Grabowski’s attorneys submitted a motion in Garlock’s bankruptcy case asking the court to allow them to continue pursuing his civil lawsuit against the company. He passed away before a 2011 trial was scheduled to begin.
They asked for the stay on the grounds that his only known exposure was from Garlock gaskets.
However, the company says it independently discovered that Grabowski exercised his voting rights in the Pittsburgh Corning bankruptcy case. His attorney certified that he had been exposed to one of Pittsburgh Corning’s products.
Grabowski’s attorneys withdrew the motion.
Garlock victories in Eugene Dougherty’s and Michael Messinger’s cases
The company says the two men, represented by the Law Offices of Peter Angelos, provided non-responsive answers and objections when the company sought their asbestos exposure histories.
Dougherty was instructed by his attorneys not to answer questions about filings against trusts at his deposition, Garlock says.
The court granted Garlock’s motion to compel production of trust claims filed by the two. They showed Dougherty had filed claims with 13 trusts and Messinger had filed claims with four trusts.
The claims led to a full defense verdict in both cases.
Reach editor John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.