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After a decade and a half of litigation battles, New York’s Levy Phillips & Konigsberg has finally succeeded in toppling asbestos’s most defiant defendant, John Crane, Inc. In the process the firm has won one of the biggest-ever asbestos judgments of its kind. In the latest chapter of this long-running legal feud, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Crane to pay $10 million in compensatory damages and interest to the estate of Paul Caruolo, a Levy Phillips client killed by asbestos-related lung cancer. For Crane — the one asbestos company that has steadfastly refused to settle any asbestos suits out of court — the size of the judgment came as a sharp rebuke to its long-standing legal policy. And the defeat was all the more galling because it came at the hands of Levy Phillips, which had repeatedly taken Crane to court before but won only once. At the heart of the two parties’ disputes lies their shared stubbornness. According to Crane’s longtime outside counsel Daniel O’Connell, Crane has refused to settle cases even where all that was asked was “ten dollars.” That’s because if Crane settles one case, O’Connell says, the next day there’ll be “three times as many.” And Levy Phillips, a firm that prides itself on its persistence, has consistently seen Crane’s anti-settlement attitude as a red flag. Says Levy Phillips’ Moshe Maimon, who tried the Caruolo case, “We evaluate whether or not we have a good case. Where we do, we don’t hesitate to take them to trial.” So when Levy Phillips decided to bring the Caruolo case to court, that made for quite a clash. As one New York-based asbestos expert put it, “With Levy Phillips you have a very ornery firm that likes to do things its own way, and in Crane, a defendant that is equally ornery and likes to have things its way. That created a very combustible combination in this instance.” Combustible indeed. The $10 million award was more than ten times what the other defendants settled for, and the judgment was the highest compensatory payment ever ordered for a single defendant in an asbestos suit, says Maimon. Maimon speculates that the magnitude of the firm’s victory over Crane will finally force the company to change its ways. “My guess is that you can only take these types of risks so many times. Seven-figure judgments, even if they’re a couple a year or once a year, when you add up all the defense costs that’s a lot. Eventually, I’m guessing that we’ll see a change in policy.” But O’Connell says the Caruolo judgment will have no impact on the Crane policy, asserting the odds remain in the company’s favor. O’Connell estimates that the policy has led plaintiffs lawyers to drop a staggering 35,000 cases against Crane in the last decade and a half. And he says that of the additional 30,000 cases currently backlogged against the company, “99.9 percent” will be dropped as a result of the policy. As for the asbestos firms that settle, he contends they have had to pay “a hell of a lot more” than Crane has, and he cites the bankruptcy of many of them as proof. And in regards to the Caruolo case, O’Connell says it isn’t over till it’s over. In September, O’Connell petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing that an expert witness called by the plaintiffs was unqualified to testify. Maimon, however, doesn’t seem too worried about that: “I can’t imagine that the Supreme Court’s going to want to take this case.” Regardless, with asbestos litigation predicted to stretch out through the year 2020, it’s a fair bet that Crane and Levy Phillips will meet again.

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