Asbestos companies file suit against tobacco companies

Saturday, February 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Several asbestos companies have joined together to file lawsuits against the tobacco giants, seeking reimbursement for past claims by sick workers and settlement awards to smokers exposed to asbestos.

The lawsuits filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Fayette name more than a dozen defendants, including R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson, and RJR Nabisco Inc.

Richard Forman, an attorney for Forman, Perry, Watkins, Krutz & Tardy in Jackson, told The Associated Press Friday that the complaints are in response to recent judgments and a spate of recent claims against former asbestos makers, forcing several into bankruptcy.

Forman said the health damage to asbestos workers _ many of whom who sued their former employers and won _ was actually caused by their tobacco use.

The suits do not state a dollar figure and Forman would not comment on the amount the companies were seeking.

Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said asbestos companies are just making another feeble attempt to recover their money.

``There is no legal basis for asbestos trust funds or asbestos companies to recover money from tobacco companies to offset damage assessed against or settlements paid by the asbestos industry,'' he said.

The suits, filed in December, were first reported by Mealey Publications, which follows tobacco and asbestos litigation, in its newsletter released Friday.

The suits were filed on behalf of Kaiser Aluminum, Asbestos Claims Management Corp., Combustion Engineering, T&N, Uniroyal Holdings Inc., A.P. Green Industries and A.P. Green Services. Some of the plaintiffs are represented by the law firm Grenfell, Sledge & Stevens of Jackson.

They claim the tobacco giants, ``knew that their tobacco products ... were especially harmful to smokers who were also occupationally exposed to asbestos.''

A federal judge declared a mistrial in a similar case on Jan. 25 in New York.

The two-month trial in Brooklyn pitted a trust representing blue-collar workers _ many of them lung cancer victims _ and their heirs against R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and other cigarette makers.

The trust also accused Big Tobacco of conspiring to mislead workers about a ``lethal synergy'' of cigarette smoke and asbestos.

Other defendants in the latest suit include: British-American Tobacco Co. Ltd., Liggett Group Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Batus Inc., BAT Industries, The Brooke Group Ltd., American Brands Inc., Loews Corp. and the Council for Tobacco Research-USA Inc.