New York appeals court rejects asbestos producer’s attempts to shield studies from plaintiffs’ review during lawsuit

by Jim Orr

A New York appeals court has ruled that a manufacturer of asbestos building products must allow a court-appointed inspector to review documents and correspondence related to studies commissioned to fight asbestos lawsuits filed against the company. Construction materials manufacturer Georgia-Pacific had attempted to avoid turning over the documents by claiming its communications with the consultants who performed the studies were protected by attorney-client privilege.

According to the appeals court, Georgia-Pacific conducted eight studies designed to prove that asbestos products sold by the company did not cause asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma cancer. Attorneys representing asbestos victims who had filed suit against the company attempted to compel Georgia-Pacific to turn over internal communications related to the studies, which the company argued it could not be forced to do because they constituted attorney-client communications.

The New York court ruled that Georgia-Pacific should be compelled to turn over the documents for independent review because of evidence that suggested the company had engaged in fraud or misconduct. The court found that there was evidence that Georgia-Pacific had attempted to conceal the role that its own in-house lawyers played in conducting the studies. The company was also found to have hidden the fact that the researchers who conducted the studies were either employees of Georgia-Pacific or experts hired by the company to help in its asbestos litigation defense.

In a unanimous decision, the court ordered the company to turn over the internal communications related to the studies to a special master appointed to review the materials for evidence of fraud. The court also ruled that Georgia-Pacific must immediately turn over materials such as scientific data and numerical calculations that formed the basis of the studies in question.

The consolidated asbestos litigation in New York involves nearly 2,000 asbestos lawsuits filed against Georgia-Pacific and other asbestos manufacturers. It is unclear how many of these cases were affected by the recent ruling.

Asbestos Exposure Linked to Deadly Illnesses

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was commonly used during the 20th century in construction materials and other industrial products because of its heat-resistant properties. Although once commonly used in many residential and commercial buildings, asbestos use all but stopped in the 1970s after the link between asbestos and a number of potentially deadly diseases was made public.

Individuals who are exposed to asbestos fibers may be at risk of developing mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that can affect the mesothelium—protective tissue that surrounds the heart, lungs, or abdomen. Despite the clear link between asbestos exposure and the deadly disease, most patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma only begin to develop symptoms of the disease decades after exposure. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and asbestosis—scarring of the lungs caused by the presence of asbestos fibers.

Construction workers, naval and shipyard workers, factory workers, and individuals who worked regularly with asbestos products may be at risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Family members whose loved ones worked around asbestos may also be at risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos fiber carried home on the skin or clothing.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson Handles Cases Involving Exposure to Hazardous Materials

The attorneys at our law firm, Heygood, Orr & Pearson, represent individuals who have been injured as a result of workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals or other materials found on the job. When employers fail to provide their workers with proper training or adequate safety equipment to protect them from the harmful effects of chemical exposure to substances such as benzene, silica sand, or asbestos, they could be held liable for illnesses or injuries caused by these materials.

If you or a loved one has become ill after working around or otherwise being exposed to dangerous substances or toxic chemicals in the workplace or other locations, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to receive a free legal consultation about your case. You can reach us by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out the free case evaluation form located at the top of this page.

by Jim Orr

Jim Orr is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P focusing on business and personal injury litigation. Jim was selected multiple times to the Super Lawyers List and has tried 70+ cases to verdict.