asbestos personal injury

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On Friday, April 28, 2017, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed, in its entirety, John and Michele Clark’s asbestos personal injury action based on the doctrine of judicial estoppel. In short, the Court ruled that the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit could not proceed without damaging the integrity and proper functioning of the judicial system. The reason: Plaintiffs did not disclose their personal injury claims before receiving their Chapter 13 Bankruptcy discharge.

The background of Plaintiffs’ personal injury lawsuit is entwined with two other actions. First, Plaintiffs filed for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in Connecticut in February 2010. A Bankruptcy Plan was confirmed approximately five months later, in July 2010. In March 2016, Plaintiffs declared that they had made all their payments as prescribed by their bankruptcy plan and requested that the bankruptcy court issue an order discharging their debts. The bankruptcy court entered such an order in August 2016.

Second, in August 2015—a year before the Chapter 13 petition was discharged—Plaintiffs filed an asbestos-related personal injury action in Illinois state court. The Illinois suit came about one month after Mr. Clark was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Clark’s illness was caused by exposure to asbestos during his service in the United States Air Force as well as his employment with an aircraft manufacturer. Plaintiffs, however, did not inform the bankruptcy court of their asbestos claims, as bankruptcy law requires. Indeed, in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, petitioners have an ongoing obligation to disclose any asset that accrues between the initiation and closing of their bankruptcy case as “[e]very conceivable interest of the debtor, future, nonpossessory, contingent, speculative, and derivative, is within the reach of [the bankruptcy estate].” Chartschlaa v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 538 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2008). Thus, by not amending their Chapter 13 schedules, Plaintiffs, in effect, were concealing an asset that rightfully belonged in their bankruptcy trustee’s care. Accordingly, after a defendant informed Plaintiffs of its intention to file a motion to dismiss based on judicial estoppel owing to their failure to disclose the existence of their Illinois action, Plaintiffs’ voluntarily dismissed the Illinois lawsuit.

Then, in July 2016—again, while Plaintiffs’ bankruptcy case was still open—Plaintiffs filed a second asbestos personal injury suit raising the same claims as those raised in Illinois, but this time in New York state court. Shortly thereafter, the defendants in the New York action removed the case to the Southern District and Plaintiffs’ bankruptcy case closed, without Plaintiffs ever amending their Chapter 13 schedules. The New York defendants then promptly filed their motion to dismiss based on judicial estoppel.

The defendants argued that Plaintiffs’ claims had to be judicially estopped as a matter of law because Plaintiffs took inconsistent positions before the Bankruptcy Court and the Southern District. On the one hand, Plaintiffs, by not fulfilling their statutory obligation to amend their schedule of assets in the bankruptcy case, declared that they had no foreseeable assets owing to them. On the other
Continue Reading S.D.N.Y. Tells Plaintiffs: “Stop! You Cannot Sue, You Changed Your Story”

Court RulingOn July 27, 2012, a jury in the matter of Michael Galliher v. American Optical Corp., et al., an asbestos personal injury lawsuit pending in the Superior Court of the State of Delaware, awarded over $2.8 million to the surviving wife and the estate of Michael Galliher.  The jury found the sole defendant at trial, R.T. Vanderbilt (“RTV”), negligent for failing to adequately warn of the hazards of its industrial talc product that was used at Michael Galliher’s workplace.  The $2.8 million verdict is the largest jury award in an asbestos personal injury lawsuit in Delaware in the past decade and well over the $1.7 million in total awarded to the plaintiffs in November 2010 in the consolidated trials of the Elizabeth Henderson and Bruce Henderson matters.

A summary of the Michael Galliher matter is provided below.

Background Facts:

In August of 2010, Michael Galliher was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.  He died just a few months later on February 3, 2011 at the age of 62.  He was survived by a wife of nearly 35 years, a son, and a step-son.  From 1966 until the early 2000s, Mr. Galliher worked at a Borg Warner facility in Mansfield, Ohio that manufactured bathroom fixtures, such as toilets and sinks.[1]  The worked at the Borg Warner facility for the majority of his working life and, aside from a few brake changes and some minor home renovation work, all of his known asbestos exposure occurred there.

Mr. Galliher worked at a number of different locations in the Borg Warner facility.  Most important for the purposes of the case was his time in the cast area, where molds were used to form the bathroom fixtures.  Plaintiffs alleged that talc was applied to the molds in the cast area so that mold could be easily removed from the finished bathroom fixture once it had set.  Plaintiffs also alleged that talc was used in an area of the facility where the glaze was applied to the finished products, called the slip area.  Although Mr. Galliher never personally worked in the slip house, the plaintiff alleged that talc dust from the slip area blew into areas of the plant where Mr. Galliher was working.

Plaintiffs’ Case:

Plaintiffs alleged that industrial talc from RTV’s Gouverneur, New York mine was used at the Borg Warner facility and that Mr. Galliher was exposed to asbestos or asbestiform bodies in that talc, which caused his mesothelioma.  Plaintiffs alleged that the talc that RTV mined in New York and supplied to the Borg Warner facility was a fibrous talc, not a “platy” talc as is used in baby powder, and that the fibrous talc was contaminated with other minerals, such as tremolite and anthophyllite.

A number of experts—both medical and mineralogical—testified on behalf of Plaintiffs.  A fiber digestion analysis was performed on Mr. Galliher’s lung tissue after his death and several of Plaintiffs’ experts, including Dr. Jerrold Abraham, Dr. James Millette, and Sean Fitzgerald (a geologist), reviewed the results of
Continue Reading Verdict Alert: Delaware jury awards $2.8 million to surviving wife and estate of a 62 year-old deceased man with mesothelioma in a talc case