On weekends, or whenever Simona Farrise finds time, she likes to go bargain-hunting on eBay and at garage sales near her home in the Oakland, Calif., hills.

She once picked up a 60-year-old occupational safety manual, a document the lawyer later used in civil trials to show that American auto companies long ago knew — or should have known — about health hazards caused by asbestos exposure. Farrise paid 50 cents to take it home.

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