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Final judgment rule bars recovery from additional asbestos company, CSA holds

A Baltimore-based insulation contractor that emerged from bankruptcy after other companies had resolved four asbestos cases cannot be held liable to the plaintiffs, an appellate court has held.

“There can be but one recovery by a plaintiff for a given wrong…,” the Court of Special Appeals said in an opinion written by Judge Timothy E. Meredith.

The court affirmed a ruling by Judge John M. Glynn granting summary judgment in favor of the Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust, the successor to the contracting firm of Wallace & Gale.

“The circuit court correctly ruled that the final judgment rule precludes further litigation seeking further compensation for the same injuries from further defendants,” Meredith wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

Wallace & Gale filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1984, and emerged from bankruptcy in 2006. As a result, it was not a party to the four asbestos cases at issue, which were resolved between 1996 and 2001.

The plaintiffs, representatives of the estates of four people who died from mesothelioma, received portions of the verdict from other defendants, but had not recovered the entire amount of the verdicts. They sought to establish that Wallace & Gale was jointly liable with the other defendants and should have to pay its share.

Edward J. Lilly of the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos P.C. represented the personal representatives of the four decedents were represented on appeal. Lilly said the issue of whether the case will proceed further is undecided.

Brian A. Zemil of Venable LLP in Towson represented Wallace & Gale. Zemil declined to comment.

F. Ford Loker Jr., an attorney at Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore who was not involved in the case, said the opinion may have a limited impact on asbestos defendants in Baltimore going forward.

“Of the 80-plus former defendants that have gone into bankruptcy, very few will have to return to the tort system as a direct defendant,” Loker said.

He said, however, that the court got it right.

“There was a final judgment in the cases,” Loker said. “The jury heard the evidence. No one left a placemat at the table for Wallace & Gale when the cases were resolved. Fairness was done. You don’t get to go back and reset the game clock.”

The four people who died from mesothelioma and whose representatives were trying to recover from Wallace & Gale were Charles T. Brannan Jr., Gust McFadden, Aristide Nardone and Theodore Jakubowski.

Brannan was a trolley driver. He made daily stops at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant, and died of mesothelioma in January 1990. Brannon’s estate settled with Owens-Corning Fiberglas Co. in December 1997 for roughly $800,000. The estate also settled with Porter-Hayden Co. for almost $700,000.

McFadden worked for Bethlehem Steel as a steelworker from 1946 until 1983, and died of mesothelioma in January 1994. A plaintiff’s verdict was rendered in his favor in May 1996. Owens-Corning settled with his estate for roughly $1.3 million and was released. Porter-Hayden and Harbison-Walker Corp. also settled in the case.

Nardone was a steelworker at Sparrows Point. He died of mesothelioma in March 1998, and a trial judge entered judgment against one direct defendant in November 2000 for roughly $342,000.

Jakubowski was also a Sparrows Point steelworker. After he died of mesothelioma in November 1999, his estate brought a lawsuit in September 2001. A jury returned a verdict against two direct defendants, John Crane Inc. and Durabla Manufacturing Co., and judgments were entered against them in the amount of $1.3 million. Seven cross-defendants were also found liable. All the cross-defendants ultimately settled.

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Charles v. Brannan, Jr. et al. v. Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust, CSA No. 2287, Sept. Term 2008. Reported. Opinion by Meredith, J. Argued Jan. 5, 2010. Filed Nov. 26, 2012.

Issue:

Did the Circuit Court correctly find that once a party has entered into a final judgment the party does not have a second chance to get money from another party that has come out of bankruptcy?

Holding:

Yes; The Circuit Court correctly held that the final judgment rule precludes further litigation seeking additional compensation for the same injuries from further defendants.

Counsel:

Edward Lilly for appellants. Brian A. Zemil for appellees.

RecordFax #12-1126-00 (16 pages).