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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

$ 700,000 + per Claimant Expected Payouts for Certain Claimants to An Expected Chapter 11 Asbestos T

Updated: Nothing is simple. Some links below are not working to see the underlying documents were uploaded as “pdf packages” instead of simple .pdf files. So, while the link provider figures why a package is a problem at least on some browsers, you may find it easier to see the papers on the free THAN website, which is here. See docket numbers 453 (objection of Waters & Kraus), 454 (Kraus Declaration), 455 (Debtor’s response), 456 (Bae declaration), and 457 (Kozen declaration). My apologies for the hassle.

How much money are asbestos claimants obtaining from asbestos bankruptcy trusts ? Unfortunately, different people will give you different answers, and they can sometimes get away with it because most if not all of the asbestos trusts fail to act in a transparent manner. However, some concrete facts about payouts from one trust in formation have now surfaced in papers filed in the Thompson-Hayward asbestos-driven chapter 11 case (commonly known as the THAN case). The papers are especially significant because they include facts about asbestos payments that are set out in a declaration from a credible source – highly successful plaintiff’s lawyer Peter Kraus. And, his declaration is backed by confirming emails and spreadsheets. The bottom line, further explained below, is that his declaration and supporting spreadsheets prove significant tort system payments by THAN to Waters + Kraus clients, and that his law firm expects equally large payments for the firm’s clients when the THAN trust starts operation. How much? Over $ 700,000, per Waters + Kraus claimant.

How has this information surfaced ? Claimants represented by the Waters + Kraus firm filed with the bankruptcy court late last month a last minute and technically untimely objection to plan confirmation ( I say technically untimely because bankruptcy court deadlines are often absurdly short, and one could very well make that argument here.) The facts about present and expected payments are set out in the Waters + Kraus objection and related papers. The objection already has been denied by Bankruptcy Judge Gerber (yes, the same Bankruptcy Judge Gerber who is hearing the GM case). But, denial of the objection does not change the facts stated in the papers. Meanwhile, Waters + Kraus has filed an appeal to the district court.

What do the papers show about tort system payments? The papers show that the THAN-related entities and Waters + Kraus agree that there was an average tort system payment of at least $ 710,000 per claimant to about 65 mesothelioma claimants represented by the Waters + Krause firm. Why so much ? Mr. Kraus’ declaration attributes the average to his firm’s zealous investigation of and ability to prove up THAN’s history as a seller of asbestos fibers (fyi, THAN also was a maker of Agent Orange). Mr. Kraus’ declaration includes supporting spreadsheets listing the claimants represented by his firm by name, along with the 4 digits of their social security numbers. His declaration also includes an interesting form of agreement with respect to solicitation of votes for the prepack.

What do the papers say about payouts from the upcoming THAN trust? read it for yourself, but to me the essence of Mr. Kraus’ declaration is the assertion that the Waters + Kraus lawyers agreed to recommend that their asbestos clients vote in favor of the THAN plan based on prepack negotiations in which lawyers for THAN and related entities assured Mr. Kraus that the trust would be created so that payouts to clients of his firm would be on average at least as ample as the tort system payouts.

What are the exact numbers? The papers, indicate a slight disagreement as to the average amount of tort system payments to the 65 claimants. Mr. Kraus asserts that the average payment in the tort system for Waters + Kraus claimants was $ 721,000 per claimant. But, as Mr. Kraus acknowledges, counsel (Mr. Kozen) for an entity known as PENAC (a Phillips Electronics entity) had asserted $ 710,000 as the average, with this modest disagreement apparently never brought to a close.

What other testimony is in the record? Lawyers for THAN (Mr. John Bae) and PENAC (Mr. Michael Kozen) submitted declarations to counter Mr. Kraus’ testimony as to exactly how the deal was negotiated and expressed. I commend reading the papers to make your own decision about whether they actually assert a meaningful distinction from the statements of Mr. Kraus. But, plainly their testimony does not take issue with Mr. Kraus’ fundamental assertion that he ended the negotiations understanding that the trust is expected to make payments to Waters + Kraus claimants that are consistent with the tort system payments of well more than $ 700,000 per Waters + Kraus claimant. Under the “forthright negotiator” line of reasoning, what he and they knew about the negotiations are relevant facts.

Where are the papers? At least for now, all the papers are available on the free THAN website, which is here, or of course are available through PACER. In addition, copies of some of the papers I thought relevant have been posted to a hopefully permanent spot on the web. Mr. Kraus’ Declaration (with exhibits) is here. Briefs and other motion papers are here. And here are the declarations from Messrs. Bae and Rozen.

A future post will provide more on why these numbers are so important in underlying tort cases, and why the numbers and papers provide yet another example of why it is poor policy to allow most if not all of the chapter 11 trusts to operate, as they do now, with virtually no automatic transparency at the claimant by claimant level and with layers of hoops and burdens “baked in to” trust distribution procedures to thwart, delay and increase the expense and difficulty of obtaining meaningful information from the trusts. As always, please bear in mind my continuing disclosure about my work and history to the extent anyone wishes to say they color or inform my statements.

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