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Owens Corning: Mississippi Supreme Court hears arguments against tobacco companies

In a hearing before the Mississippi Supreme Court, glass fiber insulation and building products manufacturer Owens Corning is trying to recover billions of dollars paid out in settlement of asbestos d…

In a hearing before the Mississippi Supreme Court, glass fiber insulation and building products manufacturer Owens Corning is trying to recover billions of dollars paid out in settlement of asbestos damages claims by arguing that the tobacco industry should take some of the blame for asbestos-related lung illnesses. Matt Steffey, a Mississippi College law professor representing Owens Corning, argued on 1 October 2003 that, if the state Supreme Court were to order a trial on the company“s claims for reimbursement from tobacco companies, it would prove cigarettes, and not asbestos, were the main culprit. Representing the tobacco manufacturers, Michael Wallace said Owens Corning cannot prove the tobacco companies “are liable to anybody anywhere for anything.” The Supreme Court gave no indication when it might rule in the case. Steffey said that, if the tobacco companies had told the truth about the harmful effects of tobacco, Owens Corning and others might not have had to pay out huge settlements. “As a result of this campaign of fraud, Owens Corning has suffered in excess of USD 2 billion in damage, and the tobacco defendants have been unjustly enriched to the tune of more than USD 6 billion,” Steffey told the justices. “Owens is in bankruptcy as the result of lung disease litigation while the tobacco companies have continued to prosper.” Jefferson County Circuit Judge Lamar Pickard dismissed Owens Corning“s lawsuit in May 2001. Pickard agreed with a special master appointed to the case that the claim was prohibited by the “remoteness doctrine,” a legal principle under which the company“s claims would be deemed secondary, and not direct, injuries. R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. are among the tobacco companies named as defendants in the suit. Asbestos companies have blamed cigarette smoking for thousands of workers“ injuries costing them millions of dollars in damages. Owens Corning is just one of dozens of companies forced into bankruptcy by claims for asbestos damages. For the defendants, Wallace said Owens“ decision to make settlement payments to victims had nothing whatever to do with alleged acts Owens claims the tobacco industry is guilty of performing. “Owens Corning paid billions of dollars to its own victims because of its own torts,” Wallace said. “Owens cannot claim that its decision to write that check was proximately the cause of its own torturous conduct. If they had not sold asbestos they would not have paid anybody anything.” At the time of its bankruptcy filing in 2000, Owens Corning estimated it had paid or agreed to pay USD 5 billion in asbestos lawsuit claims. The firm said it faced about USD 2 billion more in asbestos payouts, 25 years after it stopped selling insulation containing asbestos.

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