Halliburton Attempts to Settle Asbestos Suits
By Jonathan D. Glater
The road to Halliburton's multibillion-dollar settlement of asbestos suits began to take shape in a conference room at the Marriott hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — one of the few rooms in that hotel without an ocean view.
Lawyers representing both the company and plaintiffs outlined a strategy that would allow Halliburton to resolve tens of thousands of asbestos-related health claims it inherited when it bought Dresser Industries in 1998 — and resolve them without taking the usual step of having the whole company file for bankruptcy.
The strategy outlined that day, in early May, hinged on the idea of a contained bankruptcy, in which asbestos liability was limited to Halliburton subsidiaries. The subsidiaries would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sparing the parent company. Halliburton and the subsidiaries would contribute to a trust to pay claimants.
The settlement, if it works, could offer a way out of the labyrinth of litigation that has hounded dozens of companies, sometimes for decades, while delaying payouts to claimants who have been disabled or killed by asbestos — a threadlike mineral used for decades in insulation and building materials. The total cost of resolving asbestos claims has already reached $54 billion, and could rise to as much as $260 billion, according to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice.
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