If you’re a detested industry that’s gotten away with murder (or some other kind of grievous harm), the results can be a bit of a PR “challenge.” Sometimes you change your name to try to recover your “brand”. (Philip Morris to Altria; MetEd to GPU Nuclear following the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster.) Sometimes you just sell off the company and disappear. (Union Carbide to Dow Chemical and others following the Bhopal disaster.) Sometimes you offer victims some money (as long as they don’t - or can’t - sue you, of course.) And then sometimes, you go on the attack against victims and their attorneys who actually are suing you. That last thing? It generally doesn’t work.
Here's another example: the asbestos case brought against Garlock Sealing Technologies, one of the world’s largest asbestos-containing gasket and packing manufacturers, by more than 4,000 Navy service members and other victims with lethal mesothelioma. In 2014, a North Carolina judge – in his first and only asbestos case – decided to reduce by 90 percent the amount Garlock owed its victims. To strip them of compensation, which would have allowed Garlock to keep almost all of it, the judge had to misstate the actual trial testimony of a nuclear trained machinist who repaired and maintained nuclear propulsion plant equipment while serving in the Navy, including Garlock gaskets. The judge essentially had to believe that Navy vets knowingly participated in misleading the courts.
Yet that’s not all. Garlock’s lawyers apparently convinced this one judge that victims’ lawyers withheld certain information from Garlock - an absurd claim because the supposedly “withheld” information was already in the company’s possession. Based on that, however, Garlock filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) suit for treble (triple) damages against law firms representing these victims, as if they were part of some kind of organized criminal enterprise.
The asbestos industry was delirious with excitement. I’m sure they could hardly believe their luck after killing thousands of people every year. Suddenly, deadly asbestos companies weren’t the criminals. Victims’ lawyers were! “Asbestos litigation fraud has reached new heights,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “A symbol of the corrupt practices of the plaintiffs bar” as they called on Congress to wipe out victims’ legal rights.
Well, I hope they didn’t run out and spend that little pot of gold. Soon thereafter, evidence surfaced that Garlock was the party that “violated [the judges’] discovery orders, hid evidence from the bankruptcy court and presented false testimony .... ‘Garlock has committed a fraud upon the court,’ the read the first sentence in the memo to the judge.” You can find all that here.
Indeed, it now appears that Garlock’s entire case against the victims has crashed and burned, and that whatever paltry amount the judge awarded victims couldn’t be justified by actual facts and evidence.
Reports have now surfaced that Garlock and its parent, EnPro, will settle this case by paying victims almost four times as much as the judge had ordered. (That would be $480 million instead of $125 million). And in addition to coughing up this money, Garlock has apparently agreed to drop its bogus RICO lawsuits altogether. Poof! Gone! Guess they didn't have the case they claimed they had.
Let’s hope we all learn a little from this debacle. To repeat: if you kill people, attacking victims and their attorneys generally doesn’t work. Best to just change your name.