A $5 billion deal for a chemical company to acquire an auto catalysts company may end up costing the purchaser billions of dollars in litigation costs after it was revealed that the acquired firm may have known about the danger of asbestos in its talc mines, and concealed that fact to workers and consumers.
Talc was mined for years for use in everything from automobile tires to wallboards. Engelhard Corp. was one of the companies that owned a mine. In 1983, the company settled a lawsuit brought for asbestos exposure. Before that lawsuit settled, officials within the company testified the talc mine did in fact contain asbestos. But the evidence was sealed in that case. Then, in later lawsuits brought for the same reasons, the company and its legal team vehemently argued there was no talc in the mines, and its products were asbestos-free.
In 2006, chemical firm BASF purchased Engelhard. Three years later, a former Engelhard scientist was called to testify in a lawsuit that was filed for his own daughter, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma due to exposure from asbestos. She alleged the exposure occurred both as a result of coming in contact with her father’s clothing and during visits to his workplace. That scientist testified he was informed there was asbestos in the mines, and he was ordered to purge all records relating to the mine.
That testimony was the beginning of a battle to determine exactly how much the company and its lawyers knew about the danger of the talc, and whether thousands of people whose lawsuits were affected by the alleged cover-up should be allowed to either reopen those cases or bring new ones. Because BASF now owns the company, it would be the one on the hook to pay those damages.
As our Fort Myers product liability lawyers can explain, asbestos is a naturally-occurring fiber that is highly toxic to humans. Still it was used in a wide range of products and materials throughout the 20th century. Many companies that manufactured and distributed asbestos-laden products have now been faced with extensive litigation and some even forced to file for bankruptcy as a result of revelations that the danger was known and concealed.
The reason we’re only just now hearing about many of these cases is that asbestos-related diseases, such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma (an aggressive, terminal cancer) are latent for decades before symptoms become apparent. In the case of mesothelioma, in which the only known cause is asbestos exposure, it is usually termination within 1 to 5 years.
Asbestos litigation has been ongoing in this country since the 1970s.
As of right now, BASF is facing an estimated 300 current lawsuits relating to Engelhard’s talc. The question is whether all of those older cases could be re-opened, and the company, valued at $74 billion, could be forced to pay. Plaintiff attorneys have opined there could be as many as 10,000 older cases that could be eligible for review.
One pending case, which seeks class-action status, alleges the Engelhard and its former legal team (no longer employed by BASF) engaged in fraud and fraudulent concealment. Specifically, the company lied about the presence of asbestos and then concealed or destroyed any evidence of the truth.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Huge Potential Liability Emerges Years After BASF Acquired Engelhard, Sept. 11, 2015, By Jef Feeley and David Voreacos, Claims Journal
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