Three years ago, while affirming an appeals court decision overturning a multimillion-dollar judgment against Georgia Pacific in a mesothelioma case, the Texas State Supreme Court made the following assertions: that “proof of ‘any exposure’ to a defendant’s product will not suffice” to establish liability, that “the dose must be quantified,” and that “the plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s disease.”
It was a soundly argued decision, establishing reasonable criteria for assigning blame. Unfortunately, in jurisdictions like ours, unreasonable criteria prevail, as Georgia Pacific can attest.
This past July, the company underwent a corporate restructuring so that one of its former divisions, Bestwall Gypsum, could become a separate entity and file for bankruptcy independently, which it did three weeks ago in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
Prior to 1978, GP/Bestwall manufactured and sold a joint compound product that “exposed only a limited population to small amounts of chrysotile asbestos.” Furthermore, joint compound products represented less than 2 percent of all asbestos-containing products manufactured and sold in the country.
As companies making more prevalent, more toxic asbestos products went under, however, attention turned to – and an undue burden fell on – GP/Bestwall, which was named in roughly 80 percent of mesothelioma cases over the last five years.
“The massive increase in the number of claims against, and the size of the plaintiffs’ settlement demands... have been driven by various interrelated shortcomings of and abuses in the tort system,” attorney Garland Casada of Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson in Charlotte, N.C. said in the bankruptcy petition.
Casada cited a 2005 Madison County case that Georgia Pacific settled with a plaintiff who subsequently submitted 21 trust claims and ballots in nine bankruptcy cases based on exposures and products not disclosed during litigation.
That kind of fast-dealing on the part of plaintiffs and attorneys is unfair to the businesses targeted – and a disservice to genuine victims.