When Germany-based chemical company BASF acquired a manufacturing firm nine years ago for $5 billion, it was aware that had been prior product liability cases against the company for asbestos exposure.
The smaller firm had been in the talc-mining business, and as the years wore on, those who worked in the mines, their family members and some in the public began to get sick. Some filed lawsuit once they learned that there was asbestos in the mine, which causes a number of latent diseases, primarily mesothelioma, asbestosis, COPD and lung cancer.
In the early 1980s, the company was sued by an individual who alleged they were harmed by the asbestos in the mines. During the deposition phase of the proceedings, officials with the company conceded there was asbestos in the mines. However, soon after that, before the case could go to trial, the company entered a confidential settlement agreement. The records were sealed. And from that point forward, the line from the company and its legal team was that there was no asbestos in the mines.
This was the firm stance taken as thousands of personal injury lawsuits were filed. Some were settled. Many plaintiffs lost.
Then in 2009, after the company had been acquired by BASF, that the daughter of a former scientist for the company filed her won lawsuit. She had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, which she asserted was from contact with her father’s clothing, as well as contact with the fibers in the mines when she went to visit her father’s workplace.
In her trial, her father testified that company officials and legal advisers disclosed to him that there was “trace amounts” of asbestos in the mines, but that he needed to purge his records. There were reportedly test results going back to the 1970s that indicated asbestos was in the mines. It was the first time anyone had publicly heard someone from inside the firm admit there was indeed asbestos in those mines.
That blew these cases wide open.
The company later settled with the daughter, who has since died. Her scientist father has died of well of lung cancer, though he never smoked. He did not bring a lawsuit.
But now, there are many questions about those thousands of cases that were either lost or settled for far less than they should have can be re-opened. Certainly, it seems to defy fairness that defendants should be able to emerge unscathed from such action, when they clearly benefited from it.
There are still many unanswered questions about what the company officials knew and when they knew it. One of the 300 lawsuits that is currently pending against BASF on this issue seeks class action status, and alleges the company and its lawyers engaged in fraud and fraudulent concealment.
Some have called this the “Pandora’s Box,” and have estimated that this could result in billions of dollars in liabilities for the firm if some 10,000 cases are reopened. It’s not clear that will happen, but it’s not out of the question.
If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, contact our attorneys today to learn more about how we can help.
Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Scientist’s Testimony for Dying Daughter Roils Chemical Giant, Sept. 3,2015, By David Voreacos and Jef Feeley, Bloomberg Business
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