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Judge overturns $500M asbestos settlement (2)

Earlier this week, we began a discussion of a long and complicated series of lawsuits revolving around Travelers Insurance Co. and its payment of asbestos settlement claims. Specifically, the claims center on the asbestos products manufactured by now-bankrupt Johns Manville Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of asbestos products in U.S. history.

Following what was mean to be a final resolution of the claims in 1986, new victims continued to sue Manville and Travelers under different legal theories. Many of the later suits were premised on the allegation that Travelers "acquired knowledge about the danger of asbestos claims in the 1950s, recognized the potential for future escalation of asbestos litigation and began to influence Manville's purported failure to disclose knowledge about asbestos hazards," according to court documents.

Between 2002 and 2004, those later state court actions were bundled by a U.S. bankruptcy into three mediated settlements, which Travelers was then ordered to pay out. Various companies challenged the settlement, including another insurance company which stated that it did not want Travelers to be completely indemnified against all future claims made by other insurers.

In 2010, a federal bankruptcy judge upheld the settlements, stating that the court battle had "gone on for too long, especially for those asbestos victims who have yet to be fully compensated."

Recently, however, a different federal judge overturned that earlier decision, ruling that the 2002-2004 settlements did not absolve Travelers of future claims from other insurance companies. This means that Travelers will not have to pay the more than $500 million in settlement payments to the thousands of people who were diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases as a result of using Johns Manville's products, and those victims will likely have to litigate their claims in state court or seek another settlement.

Source: The Hartford Courant, "Travelers Not Required To Pay $500M in Asbestos Settlements, Federal Judge Says," Matthew Sturdevant, Mar. 6, 2012

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