Ford joins request to unseal transcript from asbestos trial

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co. joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in seeking the transcript of an asbestos claims trial involving Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC.

A bankruptcy judge in January ruled the “impropriety of some law firms” representing asbestos personal-injury plaintiffs led to “unfairly inflating recoveries against” the company, a unit of EnPro Industries Inc.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Legal Newsline filed papers early this month asking U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George R. Hodges in Charlotte, N.C., to unseal the trial transcript. Before the trial, Hodges ruled that the proceeding would be closed to the public.

Ford joined the fray on March 14, saying it “may have been induced into inflated settlement in some of the same cases” that Hodges reviewed in his opinion. For possible use in cases where Ford paid asbestos settlements, the automaker wants Hodges to unseal the transcript, trial exhibits and disclosures by the asbestos plaintiffs lawyers about their clients.

Aetna Inc., the insurance company, filed last month for lists of the lawyers’ asbestos clients.

Hodges said in his January decision that claimants lawyers previously withheld evidence about the comparative degree of exposure to Garlock’s products. Legal Newsline said Hodges’s opinion made “misconduct by asbestos plaintiffs and their lawyers the focus of national debate.”

The official committee of Garlock asbestos claimants last week asked Hodges to throw out Legal Newsline’s March filing. According to the committee, the publication already has an appeal pending from the judge’s decision to close the trial to the public and that should bar the publication from seeking the same relief.

Hodges said in his January opinion that $125 million was the “reasonable and reliable” estimate of present and future liability for mesothelioma claims. The asbestos claimants sought almost $1.3 billion.

Garlock, based in Palmyra, N.Y., filed for Chapter 11 protection in June 2010 and later submitted a reorganization plan for full payment of present and future asbestos personal-injury claims. The plan addresses 100,000 asbestos claims.

EnPro makes engineered products, including diesel and natural-gas engines. It has operations in the United States and 10 other countries.

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