Angelos named to settle asbestos claims

October 03, 1990|By Graeme Browning

Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, who represents many of the 8,000 people who have filed asbestos-related lawsuits in Maryland, has been named by a federal judge in New York to help negotiate a group settlement of asbestos claims against Eagle-Picher Industries Inc.

U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein on Monday appointed Mr. Angelos and Washington lawyer David I. Shapiro to represent asbestos victims in negotiations involving the more than 64,000 asbestos claims that Cincinnati-based Eagle-Picher says are pending against it.

Another federal judge had ruled earlier that Eagle-Picher may face bankruptcy unless a way is found to resolve not only the claims already filed against the company but also the additional 20,000 claims the company says are being filed against it each year.

Mr. Angelos was in New York yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

If Eagle-Picher's financial resources are exhausted by asbestos lawsuits, the possibility exists that those who filed claims early would be compensated but later claimants would receive nothing, Judge Weinstein said.

The judge said he would consolidate the claims into a class action -- thus halting all lawsuits against Eagle-Picher in other federal courts -- if a negotiated settlement could be reached.

Victims who prevail on individual asbestosis claims can receive judgments ranging from several thousand dollars to several million.

Typically, the attorney who represents a winning client receives 30 percent to 40 percent of the judgment as his fee.

In a class action, a lump sum is negotiated for all the claimants and generally they share the amount equally.

Asbestos, a fibrous mineral used in construction and insulation, causes lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

More than 90,000 lawsuits based on asbestos diseases are pending nationwide, including more than 5,000 such lawsuits in Baltimore City courts.

In late August the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court, upheld a $5 million verdict on behalf of the families of two former Baltimore shipyard workers against Eagle-Picher and six other manufacturers of asbestos products.

Eagle-Picher manufactured asbestos-containing cement, a dusty product used to insulate ships in the Fairfield, Key Highway, Sparrows Point and Maryland Drydock shipyards in the 1940s, according to Baltimore lawyer Harry Goldman Jr., who represented the two workers' families.

Eagle-Picher was warned by the federal government as early as 1936 that asbestos could harm workers who breathed its fibers, but the company did not put warnings on their cement bags until 1964, Mr. Goldman said.

"Eagle is a very bad actor," he added.

"Judge Weinstein may or may not be right when he says they deserve special treatment."

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