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Last defendant settles city’s asbestos suit

Baltimore will receive $500,000 in settlement of an asbestos lawsuit that spanned 26 years and involved 63 companies, under a settlement approved Wednesday by the Board of Estimates.

The lawsuit, Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Keene Corp., et al, was filed on Sept. 24, 1984 as an omnibus damages lawsuit. On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates unanimously approved the settlement with the corporate remnants of Kentile Flooring Inc., of Brooklyn.

Kentile was a well-known manufacturer of flooring and tile, some of which included asbestos. The settlement was held up by the fact the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992.

“We continued to press our claim over the years, but we couldn’t do anything with our claims until now,” said David E. Ralph, deputy city solicitor.

Ralph said given the history of the litigation he was satisfied with the final settlement with Kentile.

“Because the company had been in bankruptcy for some time, it was our opinion that we got as much out of them as we could in a realistic recovery,” he said.

The City Solicitor’s office contracted with the law firm Cooper and Tuerk LLP, of Baltimore, to litigate the case. Carl E. Tuerk Jr. declined to comment on it.

The original lawsuit, filed during the administration of William Donald Schaefer, named companies including Kentile; Keene Corp.; GAF Corp.; Fiberboard Corp.; Lake Asbestos of Quebec; and Crown Cork and Seal Co.

Over the years, the litigation involved dozens of defense attorneys from the state. According to court records, listed counsel over the years included former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and current Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.

The city sought damages from Kentile for flooring tiles used in city buildings like schools and libraries. Ralph said the case dealt with property damages — the cost of remediating the asbestos in city buildings — rather than personal injuries from asbestos dust inhalation.

Ralph said Wednesday’s settlement ends the lawsuit as Kentile was the last of the 63 companies to either settle or not emerge from bankruptcy protection.

The city hired Cooper and Tuerk on a contingency basis, Ralph said. While he declined to comment on the exact cost of litigation, he said the city typically pays contingency fees of 16 percent or less.