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Delaware Judge to Decide Amount of Asbestos Liability for W.R. Grace Bankruptcy

W.R. Grace Lawyers Attempting to Limit Asbestos Liabilities

W.R. Grace & Co., the vermiculite and chemical corporation responsible for the asbestos contamination of Libby, Montana, currently awaits the decision of US Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald to determine the company's future. In a Delaware courtroom, the bankruptcy judge will decide exactly how much W.R. Grace will owe for damages due to an abundance of asbestos claims, stemming from the Libby, Montana, tragedy. Furthermore, W.R. Grace continues to be sued for asbestos injuries caused by exposure to asbestos-containing products that the company produced in the past, such as spray-on fireproofing and Zonolite insulation. Exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products can cause debilitating diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and the asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.

For Asbestos Contamination, W.R. Grace Faces Criminal Charges and Bankruptcy

Currently, seven of W.R. Grace's top executives face criminal charges for "knowingly" releasing asbestos fibers into the air of Libby, Montana. For decades, W.R. Grace mined vermiculite ore contaminated with asbestos, to the detriment of its workers. W.R. Grace concealed information on the dangers of being exposed to the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore and the miners were not encouraged to wear protective gear. Hundreds of miners and residents of Libby have died from asbestos-related diseases. The hazardous asbestos-contamination of the town will continue to affect those who lived and worked there for years to come.

Asbestos exposure not only occurred in the mines but in the town of Libby as well. Miners brought the asbestos dust home to their families on their clothing, and residents breathed lethal amounts of asbestos-laced dust in the air. Included in the numerous criminal charges against W.R. Grace are obstructing the government clean up efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), interfering with EPA investigations, and wire fraud. After the disaster and the ensuing barrage of asbestos claims, W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy about six years ago.

W.R. Grace's Price Tag for Asbestos Claims

Now W.R. Grace is attempting to shake off the heavy asbestos debt by banking on Judge Judith Fitzgerald to attach about a $700 million price tag to what the company owes for all of the injuries, death and other damages from asbestos claims. If the verdict is anywhere near that number, W.R. Grace can afford to cover the costs of the asbestos claims and is set to make its way out of bankruptcy with enough to give to its shareholders as well. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, "The trial will begin Jan.14 in a Delaware bankruptcy court and will produce the number that will be the core of Grace's Chapter 11 exit plan." (Boston, January 3, 2008)

However, if the judge decides that the value of the asbestos claims rise to a projected number of two to three billion dollars or more, then W.R. Grace's future rests in the hands of the people they hurt by exposing them to asbestos. Plaintiffs have already estimated that there are at least six billion in damages, but W.R. Grace attorneys believe they can settle for as little as $500 million.

Some asbestos attorneys say the "company is trying to convert a forum that was intended to promote negotiation into a platform for eliminating vast numbers of asbestos-injury claims." If W.R. Grace wins the trial, "thousands of people who would be entitled to press their claims before a hometown judge and jury will instead have their fates determined in a far away bankruptcy courtroom." (Boston, January 3, 2008)

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