At least three more asbestos defendants are seeking access to the discovery information that led a bankruptcy judge to find “demonstrable misrepresentation” by plaintiffs’ lawyers in several asbestos cases.
Volkswagen Group of America Inc., Honeywell International Inc. and Crane Co. all have filed motions to join Ford Motor Co.’s motion for access to that evidence.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges of the Western District of North Carolina found that plaintiffs’ lawyers withheld evidence of their clients’ exposure to other sources of asbestos in the bankruptcy case of Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC. Those cases included a $9 million verdict in California and a $1.35 million verdict in Texas, the judge said.
Garlock, under the judge’s authorization, took discovery in 15 cases and demonstrated that evidence of the plaintiffs’ exposure to other products was withheld in every one, according to the judge’s opinion in January.
Volkswagen said in its court papers that it is similarly situated to Ford in being sued over automobiles it sold decades ago. The plaintiffs claim exposure to asbestos from car parts including brakes that allegedly released asbestos through friction.
“The principle of public access to judicial proceedings is an essential foundation to the functioning of our society, but is particularly critical when the access is sought by companies who have been sued on identical grounds by the individuals whose submissions are being sought,” Volkswagen said.
Honeywell, which has been a global supplier of “brake friction materials and aftermarket brake products,” said it has been a codefendant with Garlock in many cases, and that it has litigated and settled “many of the same cases at issue and may have been subject to the same form of conduct described by this court.”
For its own part, Garlock said the asbestos claimants have no ground to keep the case closed from their own health insurers, to whom they owe a legal obligation. Insurer Aetna Inc. and Rawling Company LLC, a cost-containment vendor to insurers, also seek access to the evidence.
Federal Rule of Bankruptcy 2019 statements, which must be filed by anyone participating in bankruptcy cases, were found to be judicial records by the one court that has looked at the issue, Garlock said in court papers.
“American courts, including those of the Fourth Circuit, uniformly recognize a common law right of access to judicial records that is rebuttable only upon a showing of ‘significant’ interests that ‘heavily outweigh the public interests in access,’ ” Garlock argued.
The plaintiffs have not shown any significant issues outweighing public disclosure, the defendant said.
Amaris Elliott-Engel is a contributing writer for law.com.