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Federal Appellate Court Reverses Ruling and Allows Those Injured by Asbestos to Pursue Claims Against Talc-Product Company

While it is rare to see a cancer diagnosis associated with a personal injury action, there are certain types of cancers like mesothelioma that are caused by negligent and reckless asbestos exposure.  Certain workers and family members may have been unnecessarily exposed to asbestos while employed in the construction industry or for a company that manufactures products often used in the construction business.  Many civil claims have been filed over the last several decades for those who have suffered from asbestos-related diseases.  Recently, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals released a precedential opinion in early September, which reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a class action suit against an employer for its deceptive conduct.

In Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, several employees and estates of deceased employees filed suit against a company that produced talc products.  The injured parties alleged that the company knew the products contained disease-causing asbestos and actively deceived the employees and family members to avoid accountability and responsibility for damages.  The plaintiffs claimed that the destruction of evidence led to the settlement and dismissal of claims that would have been pursued for the asbestos-related diseases. 

The defendant company mined talc for 16 years and used it for a variety of products, ranging from wall boards to auto body “filler” to children’s balloons.  During this time period, several laboratory tests were completed, revealing that the talc from the company’s mine contained asbestos.  Rather than stop operations and advise the employees of the exposure, the company chose to not just ignore the results, but actively advertise to consumers that the products were “asbestos free.”  Glimpses of this behavior were only seen in an individual lawsuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s, where depositions were taken of the researchers who tested the samples of talc and acknowledged these samples tested positive for asbestos.  However, that case settled and the evidence was sealed under a confidentiality clause.

After this suit, the talc company circulated a memo that directed employees to destroy records relating to the asbestos-containing talc.  After the records were destroyed, the company actively deceived actual and potential plaintiffs using stock motions and responses categorically denying that the talc contained asbestos.  Actions were withdrawn and dismissed based on these misrepresentations.  After decades of thwarted and settled lawsuits, a research scientist testified that he had discovered asbestos in the company’s talc several years ago, and that the company had instructed him to hand over his records.  Records have since been found, corroborating the scientist’s testimony. 

In the Williams case, the appellate court determined that the plaintiff’s claims of fraud were properly pleaded and legitimate under the underlying state law.  The Court of Appeals did not believe that any “litigation privilege” protected a company’s systematic deceptions, and that there was already enough evidence to show a jury could consider fraudulent concealment by the employer.  While the Court did not support the plaintiff’s pursuit of action under the RICO statute, it did reverse the ruling and remand for further proceedings.

The Scranton medical negligence attorneys at Needle Law Firm understand that at-fault entities should be held accountable for their actions.  While no amount of money can replace a deceased family member, legal action against a previous employer or company can help provide financial relief, while holding reckless and deceptive entities responsible for their actions.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 574-344-1266.

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