Justia Products Liability Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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IImerys sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in response to mounting asbestos and talc personal injury claims. Many of the claimants who will suffer harm from asbestos exposure traceable to the debtor will not manifest those injuries until long after the reorganization process has concluded. Cases involving asbestos liability, therefore, use trusts designed to compensate present and future asbestos claimants, coupled with an injunction against future asbestos liability to allow the debtor to emerge from bankruptcy without the uncertainty of future asbestos liabilities while ensuring claimants would not be prejudiced just because they had not yet manifested injuries at the time of the bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 524(g), The provision requires the appointment of a legal representative (FCR) to protect the rights of future claimants. The FCR participates in the negotiation of the reorganization plan and objects to terms that unfairly disadvantage future claimants.A group of insurance companies appealed the appointment of an FCR in the Ilmerys bankruptcy, arguing that the FCR had a conflict of interest because the FCR’s law firm also represented two of the insurance companies in a separate asbestos-related coverage dispute. The Third Circuit affirmed the appointment. The Bankruptcy Court did not abuse its discretion in appointing the FCR. it gave due consideration to the purported conflict and correctly determined that the interests of both the insurance companies and the future claimants were adequately protected. View "In re: Imerys Talc America, Inc" on Justia Law

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After Old GM filed for bankruptcy, New GM emerged. This case involves one of the consequences of the GM bankruptcy. Beginning in February 2014, New GM began recalling cars due to a defect in their ignition switches. Many of the cars in question were built years before the GM bankruptcy. Where individuals might have had claims against Old GM, a ʺfree and clearʺ provision in the bankruptcy courtʹs sale order barred those same claims from being brought against New GM as the successor corporation. Various individuals nonetheless initiated class action lawsuits against New GM, asserting ʺsuccessor liabilityʺ claims and seeking damages for losses and injuries arising from the ignition switch defect and other defects. The bankruptcy court enforced the Sale Order to enjoin many of these claims against New GM. The court concluded that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction to interpret and enforce the Sale Order; the ʺfree and clearʺ provision covers pre‐closing accident claims and economic loss claims based on the ignition switch and other defects, but does not cover independent claims or Used Car Purchasersʹ claims; the court found no clear error in the bankruptcy court's finding that Old GM knew or should have known with reasonable diligence about the defect, and individuals with claims arising out of the ignition switch defect were entitled to notice by direct mail or some equivalent, as required by procedural due process; because enforcing the Sale Order would violate procedural due process in these circumstances, the bankruptcy court erred in granting New GMʹs motion to enforce and these plaintiffs cannot be bound by the terms of the Sales Order; and the bankruptcy courtʹs decision on equitable mootness was advisory. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re Motors Liquidation Co." on Justia Law

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In 1988 Sutherland received breast implants in North Carolina. She filed suit in North Carolina five years later, after learning that the silicone in her implants could be causing a variety of serious medical problems. The Silicone’s manufacturer, Dow Corning, filed for bankruptcy in Michigan, and Sutherland’s suit was transferred there. In 2012, 24 years after Sutherland received the implants, the district court concluded that Sutherland’s claim was barred by Michigan’s statute of limitations and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the district court should have applied North Carolina’s law instead of Michigan’s, and should have concluded that there was a genuine factual issue as to whether Sutherland’s claim was timely-filed under North Carolina law. View "Sutherland v. DCC Litig. Facility, Inc." on Justia Law

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For more than 30 years, Grace has defended itself against asbestos-related lawsuits filed by building owners seeking redress for costs involved in removing Grace products. AMH owns a hospital complex that used Grace products in its construction and filed a class action lawsuit in South Carolina state court. Before resolution of that litigation, Grace filed a petition for Chapter 11 protection. After about 10 years, most property damage claims against Grace had been settled, contingent on approval of an 11 U.S.C. 524(g) trust and an injunction channeling property damage claims against Grace to that trust for payment. AMH did not settle. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed Grace’s reorganization, including a trust and channeling injunction, over AMH’s objections. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the reorganization plan did not meet the requirements of section 524(g), which provides a mechanism for handling overwhelming asbestos-related liabilities in Chapter 11 proceedings; that the plan failed to provide equal treatment as required by 11 U.S.C. 1123(a)(4), (C) ; that Grace did not show that the Plan was proposed in good faith under 11 U.S.C. 1129(a) and did not show that the Plan is feasible. View "In Re: W.R. Grace & Co." on Justia Law

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Grace has manufactured and sold specialty chemicals and construction materials for more than 100 years. The company began facing asbestos-related lawsuits in the 1970s, based on several products and activities, including operation of a Montana vermiculite mine that released asbestos-containing dust into the atmosphere and sale of Zonolite Attic Insulation (ZAI). Montana and the Crown (Canada) have been sued for alleged failure to warn citizens of the risks posed by Grace’s products and activities. Montana settled its cases for $43 million in 2011. The Crown is a defendant in lawsuits arising from the use of ZAI. Montana and the Crown sought indemnification from Grace. Grace sought protection under the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 524(g), which allows a company to establish a trust to handle such liabilities. Montana and the Crown objected to confirmation of a Plan of Reorganization that will send all asbestos claims to two trusts, allowing protected parties to be “unconditionally, irrevocably and fully released.” The personal injury trust is funded by $ 1.5 billion from settlements with Grace’s insurers and former affiliates, an initial payment from Grace of $ 450 million, a warrant to acquire 10 million shares of Grace common stock at $ 17 per share, and annual cash payments from Grace of $100-110 million through 2033. The property damage trust is funded by an initial payment of 180 million dollars, and a subsequent payment of 30 million dollars. The two trusts have separate mechanisms for resolving claims. The bankruptcy court, the district court, and the Third Circuit confirmed the plan. View "In re: W.R. Grace & Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs installed shingles manufactured by Owens Corning (debtor). They discovered leaks in 2009; shingles had cracked. Each sent warranty claims, which were rejected. They filed a class action alleging fraud, negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. In 2000, the debtors had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions; the Bankruptcy Court set a claims bar date in 2002 and approved a notice that appeared in multiple publications. Notices of the confirmation hearing for the Plan, in 2006, included generic notice to unknown claimants. At the time they filed the class action plaintiffs did not hold “claims” under 11 U.S.C. 1101. The Third Circuit subsequently established a rule that a claim arises when an individual is exposed pre-petition to a product or other conduct giving rise to an injury, which underlies a right to payment under the Bankruptcy Code. Based on that holding, the district court held that plaintiffs’ claims were discharged. The Third Circuit affirmed in part and remanded, agreeing that plaintiffs had “claims.” Both were “exposed” to the product before confirmation of the plan. Plaintiffs were not afforded due process by published notice, however, because they could not have known they had claims at the time of confirmation. View "Wright v. Owens Corning" on Justia Law

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This case required the court to address the scope of federal bankruptcy jurisdiction over suits against non-debtor third parties, as well as the scope of a stay issued pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 524(g)(4). Pfizer and Quigley appealed from a judgment in the district court reversing the Clarifying Order of the bankruptcy court and holding that the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos (Angelos) could bring suit against Pfizer for claims based on "apparent manufacturer" liability under Pennsylvania law. The court determined that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal; that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction to issue the Clarifying Order; and that the Clarifying Order did not bar Angelos from bringing the suits in question against Pfizer. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "In re: Quigley Company, Inc." on Justia Law