The money's not going to cure Burt Shephard's cancer or bring Dianne Petty's husband back or allow Chris Anderson to keep up with his grandchildren...
The money’s not going to cure Burt Shephard’s cancer or bring Dianne Petty’s husband back or allow Chris Anderson to keep up with his grandchildren.
But the $5.2 billion settlement that was approved this week for insulation giant Owens Corning, the company’s creditors and thousands of asbestos victims — including 2,000 in Washington state — does bring an end to a five-year legal battle that has kept victims in limbo.
“It’s a good start,” said Anderson, 58, a third-generation insulator at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton who was diagnosed with asbestosis two years ago.
Before his diagnosis, he watched his grandfather, father and mother die of the disease, he said.
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Owens Corning, an Ohio-based company that used asbestos in insulation and other building materials for more than three decades, was among more than 70 companies that sought bankruptcy protection when a flood of lawsuits from asbestos victims began to hit the courts.
Asbestos is a fibrous, heat-resistant mineral that was commonly used in insulation, auto parts and construction products between the 1940s and the 1970s, when a causal link was proven between the material and several chronic and terminal lung diseases. The diseases typically emerge decades after exposure.
Victims’ attorneys were able to prove in court that executives at Owens Corning and other companies knew of the safety risks posed by asbestos long before the material was banned, according to Matthew Bergman, a Seattle lawyer who served on the Trust Advisory Committee that hammered out the settlement agreement with Owens Corning, approved this week in bankruptcy court.
“We were able to show they literally had, in their hands, studies showing they knew the risk to human health at the same time they were marketing it as nontoxic,” Bergman said at a Seattle news conference Thursday morning. Bergman said the settlement amount was based on calculations for current and future asbestos lawsuits. Nationwide there are, or will be, about 200,000 claims against Owens Corning; in this state the estimate is 2,000. He said his law firm, Bergman & Frockt, will file nearly 600 claims on behalf of clients.
The settlement agreement requires that Owens Corning pay $4.29 billion in cash into an asbestos victims’ trust fund, plus allot to the fund 28.6 million company stock shares once the company emerges from bankruptcy. The manufacturer also agreed to pay $2.5 billion to creditors. The settlement will let the company exit bankruptcy this year.
Burt Shephard, a pipefitter who retired after 30 years with Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is mostly caused by asbestos exposure.
“We never imagined all those years ago that something meant to protect people would end up killing them,” said Shephard, who will likely receive about $147,000 from the settlement.
“The scary part for me is that I remember coming home with it all over my clothes. I’m just thankful for the help this will provide my family.”
Dianne Petty, who lost her husband, Bob Petty, to mesothelioma three years ago, said she understands the bitterness and anger felt by some of the other victims, but she’s glad the legal battle is over. “I can’t be bitter about it. Life goes on,” she said.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org