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Asbestos liability case goes to Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court will hear a case relating to liability for asbestos exposure this term, as Pfizer attempts to argue that it should not be held liable for the use of asbestos by a subsidiary, Quigley Co.

Usually when one company buys another company, a deal must be struck as to who will be responsible for liabilities arising out of conduct that occurred prior to the purchase. In cases where companies merge or one is simply acquired, the remaining business (in this case Pfizer) will have to assume responsibility for the purchased company's liability.

The claims in this case date back to steel products manufactured in from the 1940s until the 1970s. Pfizer bought Quigley, which manufactured those contaminated products, in 1968. The lawsuit at issue now is one that was filed in 1999.

In this case, Pfizer is trying to limit their liability for the asbestos exposure cases through a court order, but it is unclear whether that wish will be granted. Pfizer says that Quigley's bankruptcy proceeding has put a stop to its liability as a parent company and that they did not play a role in selling the toxic products. If Pfizer's wish to be released from this claims is granted, that could mean that many people who have been exposed to asbestos through the fault of Quigley Co., will be without legal recourse and without compensation for their injuries.

The court that heard the case before it was taken up by the Supreme Court was a federal appeals court, which determined that the lawsuits against Pfizer could proceed.

While all of this information might seem quite irrelevant to some Illinois readers, the truth is that these issues are prevalent in many asbestos-exposure cases since they date back many decades. Companies that manufactured, sold, used, and disposed of asbestos-laden insulation and other products are often out of business by the time a claim arises or by the time that an injured person discovers who the responsible party is. In those situations, any mergers of acquisitions that could have transferred liability to an existing company are very relevant to the success of the claim.

Source: Bloomberg, "Pfizer Gets High Court Inquiry on Asbestos Suit Shield," Greg Stohr, Jan. 14, 2013.

Information about personal injury claims can be found on our Illinois asbestos exposure page.

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