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Judge overturns $500M asbestos settlement (1)

Continuing a nearly 30-year court battle over the payment of a massive asbestos settlement, a federal judge recently ruled that Travelers Insurance Co. does not have to make more than $500 million in settlement payment to thousands of asbestos victims. This will return the previously-settled cases to state court, effectively restarting the legal process for many asbestos victims who have already waited years or even decades for the money they need and deserve.

From 1947 to 1976, Travelers provided general liability and other insurance coverage to Johns Manville Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of raw asbestos and asbestos products in U.S. history. As a result, several thousand people sued the company, alleging that the household, industrial and military products manufactured by Johns Manville had caused them to be exposed to asbestos and to suffer lasting medical harm as a result of that exposure.

This led to a complicated series of settlement agreements and court rulings, which we will attempt to explain in an understandable way below.

Johns Manville declared bankruptcy in 1982 after thousands of victims filed asbestos lawsuits against the company. In 1986, Travelers reached an initial settlement with asbestos victims, agreeing to pay $80 million into a bankruptcy estate to cover all of Manville's present and future liabilities. Court documents indicate that the settlement was intended to "fully and finally extricate Travelers from the Manville morass" and indemnify the insurance company from future liability.

We will continue this discussion in a second blog post later this week, in which we will look at the series of lawsuits that followed the 1986 settlement.

Source: The Hartford Courant, "Travelers Not Required To Pay $500M in Asbestos Settlements, Federal Judge Says," Matthew Sturdevant, Mar. 6, 2012

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