Now, that seemingly innocuous deal could end up costing BASF dearly. Potentially billions of dollars from possibly thousands of asbestos exposure lawsuits could be coming down the pipeline for BASF. That’s because in buying Engelhard, it also assumed its liabilities.
And now, it appears, Engelhard may have had some major liabilities with regard to its talc production in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Talc was routinely used in a wide range of products, from auto tires to wallboards.
In 1983, without much fanfare, Engelhard was sued. The allegation was the talc produced by the company’s mine contained asbestos, which is known to cause a rare and deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma. Depositions were taken in the case, and in sworn testimony, employees testified that the mine did indeed contain talc. But the case was quietly settled.
After that, the evidence was sealed. The company and its lawyers repeatedly in other lawsuits over the course of 20 years insisted the firm’s mines did not contain asbestos. But after BASF assumed the company’s liabilities, a different picture started to emerge.
A daughter of one former scientist for Engelhard sued BASF for exposure to asbestos in the company’s talc products. That scientist testified as a witness in his daughter’s case. She claimed she had been exposed to asbestos from her father’s clothing and during visits to his work.
In depositions for her case, her father told the court he previously had been told by company leaders there was asbestos in the talc, but the firm’s legal department advised them to purge all records. Another former co-worker of his had testified about the 1970s test results that did show asbestos in the mine.
After those revelations, there are now a growing number of lawsuits that raise questions about what the company knew, whether its lawyers acted ethically, and whether thousands of people around the country should have the right to re-open old cases in light of this new information. It’s being carefully watched by many product liability attorneys for the fact that it raises questions about whether it is possible to obtain real justice if companies and their legal teams actively hide critical evidence in civil litigation.
Our mesothelioma lawyers understand that if the old cases are allowed to be reopened – some 10,000 of them – it could cost BASF billions of dollars. There are presently about 300 lawsuits pending against the company.
One of those plaintiffs has requested class action status. That complaint alleges the company and its lawyers engaged in fraud and fraudulent concealment by lying about the presence of the asbestos in talc, and then further by concealing and destroying evidence related to those facts while insisting publicly – in sworn court testimony – that they had done nothing wrong.
A spokesperson for the previous legal team, which was replaced by BASF in 2010, insisted its lawyers acted properly.
For its part, BASF has conceded its research revealed there was some asbestos in the talc, but it has insisted that this was not the cause of the injuries asserted.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Scientist’s Testimony for Dying Daughter Roils Chemical Giant, Sept. 3, 2015, By David Voreacos and Jef Feeley, Bloomberg Business
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Ferraro Law Firm Wins $17 Million Mesothelioma Lawsuit, Sept. 3, 2015, Florida Asbestos Lawyer Blog