The curtains have closed on a cloak-and-dagger routine allegedly performed by chemical giant BASF SE and their legal team.

According to Bloomberg, lawyers from Cahill, Gordon & Reindel LLP will divvy up a joint settlement with BASF to resolve claims that the two groups concealed evidence in an attempt to crush a barrage of lawsuits.

The History That Started it All

The allegations involved Engelhard Corp., which BASF acquired in 2006 for $5 billion. Engelhard produced talc from a Vermont-based mine the company owned. The minerals were then used in a variety of industry environments, as well as in the manufacture of auto body filler, party balloons, wallboard, and other consumer products.

Prior to BASF’s acquisition, from 1967 to 1983, Engelhard sold this type of talc. In 1979, a tire worker’s mesothelioma death prompted a lawsuit against Engelhard. Pre-trial hearings revealed the presence of asbestos in one of the company’s talc mines. The lawsuit settled in 1983, and a confidentiality order sealed the damaging asbestos evidence.

Since this settlement and sealing of evidence, Engelhard’s law firm has defended multiple similar lawsuits on behalf of Engelhard, and in each one, they asserted that the company’s talc did not contain asbestos.

They allegedly used the defense to intimidate plaintiffs into either dropping their cases or settling for ridiculously low amounts—$3,000 at times, for a claim that would otherwise have potentially resulted in awards in the millions of dollars.

How Claims of Deception Landed a Joint Settlement

In 2009, a woman claimed to contract mesothelioma from washing the clothes of her father, a scientist who had worked at Engelhard. Although the claimant settled with the company, a case deposition of former research scientists had revealed that “for years” Engelhard top brass knew about the presence of asbestos in its talc products.

In 2012, this deception became the subject of a proposed class-action lawsuit that the 2020 settlement aims to resolve. The lawsuit alleged that Engelhard and its law firm acted in a deceptive manner intended to thwart the judicial process. 

Although the 2012 case had been thrown out by a federal judge in New Jersey, it was later revived by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia. Judge Julio Fuentes stated in his July 2020 ruling that the defendants had indeed, “rigged the game from the beginning” by intentionally misrepresenting—for decades—the existence of asbestos in the Engelhard’s talc products.

Both BASF and their law firm continue to deny allegations of wrongdoing.

Former Claimants Are Welcome to Refile and Be Compensated

Beneficiaries of the joint settlement include thousands of asbestos claimants, as well as previous plaintiffs who had already dropped their cases—should they decide to resurrect those cases.

BASF and Cahill have not announced how they will divide the $72.5 million joint settlement. Including legal fees and other costs, the total value of the settlement approaches $100 million, according to Bloomberg.

RESOURCES:

  1. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2020/07/24/576842.htm
  2. https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/basf-law-firm-to-pay-72-5-million-in-talc-fraud-settlement
  3. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCOURTS-njd-2_11-cv-01754/pdf/USCOURTS-njd-2_11-cv-01754-2.pdf
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Sara Stephens is a freelance writer who has developed a hefty portfolio of work across several industries, with a strong emphasis on law, technology, and marketing. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, as well as various technology and consumer publications, both print and online. Sara also works as a freelance book editor, having developed and edited manuscripts for bestselling and novice authors alike, and as a verbal strategist for a Miami branding consultancy.