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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Manville Trust Sued for Refusing to Pay Claims of Persons Living Overseas and Claiming Exposure Whil

Global asbestos claiming. The latest chapter in the global growth is a new lawsuit filed against the Manville Trust in New York bankruptcy court. The claimants are persons who live overseas and claim inhalation of Manville’s asbestos fibers while aboard US warships. The complaint alleges that the Manville Trust terms are unfair and inequitable because persons living overseas are treated less well than are persons living in the US. According to Jaqueline Palank’s Wall Street Journal article on the case, the Manville Trust intends to move to dismiss the complaint, quoting David Austern, the long-time General Counsel of the Trust.

The lawsuit raises myriad interesting questions, but it’s not plain all will be reached or revealed in the litigation. Start with the question of jurisdiction – does the bankruptcy court have the power to resolve this claim? Next, do the plaintiffs have a ‘right" to treatment equivalent to persons living in the US when judged against 1) the terms of the Trust, and 2) other sources of legal rights.

Third, were the plaintiff’s interests adequately represented during the Manville bankruptcy, and can they bound by the terms of the bankruptcy court proceedings as a matter of due process? To my knowledge the Manville bankruptcy process did not include any estimates for overseas claims. Assuming that’s correct, it seems plain the futures representative did not adequately represent his entire constituency. That being so, one could argue that the Manville injunction does not bind overseas claimants, and so current owners of Manville face successor liability tort claims by exposed and injured persons living overseas. This prior post explores that subject in greater depth, including analogies to the issues which have arisen after the original Agent Orange resolution.

Fourth, will this suit and discovery provide insights into the decision-making processes of the Trust? A look into the decision-making process would be fascinating because the Trust has become increasingly opaque in recent years, as discussed here. The case might also delve into why the Manville Trust stopped collecting social security numbers from claimants, a topic previously covered in this post.

One suspects the case will be resolved without all the issues being reached. But the due process and adequacy issues will remain for another day.

One more thing. The suit was filed by Mitchell S. Cohen, a lawyer in Narbarth, Pennsylvania. The web site for his firm describes his practice as follows:

Mitchell S. Cohen has successfully practiced complex litigation and has specialized in representing injured workers exposed to asbestos and other toxic materials, since leaving the U.S. Department of Justice in 1979. He continues to hold companies accountable for the harm and damage they have caused to those who have worked in shipyards, power stations, refineries and elsewhere in the building trades, as well as their families who are likewise affected. He has obtained significant jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of those whom he has been privileged to serve.

Mitchell S. Cohen was both a partner and later Special Counsel to Locks Law firm since 1990. He recently left to establish his individual practice, in conjunction with several other personal injury firms, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Florida. Earlier in his career, Mr. Cohen served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in both Michigan and Pennsylvania as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division and Chief of the White Collar Crime and Fraud Unit in Pennsylvania. He then became both an associate and partner with the firm of Blank. Rome, Comisky & McCauley from 1979 to 1988.

Admitted to Practice: Michigan Supreme Court (1973); Pennsylvania Supreme Court (1975); New York Court of Appeals (1993); Kentucky Supreme Court (1994); U.S. Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit (1974); U.S. Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit (1982); United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division (1974); United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (1978); United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (1997); United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (1997);

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Temple University, 1969. Juris Doctor (cum laude), Detroit College of Law, Michigan State University 1973

Professional Affiliations:

  1. American Association for Justice (formerly American Trial Lawyers Association)

  2. Pan European Organization of Personal Injury Lawyers, (PEOPIL), England

  3. International Bar Association, England

  4. Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, (APIL), England

  5. American Bar Association

  6. Kentucky Bar Association

  7. Michigan State Bar Association

  8. New York State Bar Association

  9. Pennsylvania Bar Association

  10. Philadelphia Bar Association

  11. Delaware County Bar Association

  12. Rensselaer County New York Bar Association

  13. Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association

  14. Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association

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