Orrick emerges victorious from Texas asbestos showdown

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe has won a landmark $1.3bn (£710m) asbestos case for client Union Carbide.

The US chemicals giant, which was a major producer of asbestos, brought in Orrick to replace Kelley Drye & Warren as its national counsel in spring 2002.

Orrick acts as the company’s national litigation counsel, coordinating all disputes and handling the most significant cases itself. Litigation partner Peter Bicks is leading a series of cases for Union Carbide across the US.

The claim was brought by Kelly-Moore, which buys asbestos from Union Carbide for use in its construction products.

In the first case of its kind, Kelly-Moore sued Union Carbide to offset damages it may have to pay to its own customers. It is possible the customers could sue in the future if they are harmed by Kelly-Moore’s asbestos-contaminated products.

Kelly-Moore alleged that Union Carbide had deliberately concealed the harmful effects of asbestos. Union Carbide, which mines and mills raw asbestos in California, countered by saying that asbestos, when handled properly, is safe.

The Kelly-Moore claim was filed in May 2002. A number of legal issues, such as whether or not the case was premature, had to be resolved before it could be brought to trial, resulting in several appeals to the Texas Supreme Court.

In the resulting six-week trial, concluding on 22 October, the jury found that Union Carbide had not committed fraud against Kelly-Moore.

Bicks said: ‘The significance of this case is that it sends a message to companies that sold products with asbestos in them to take responsibility for their products, and not to blame companies like Union Carbide that acted responsibly.”

Texas plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier of the Lanier Law Firm represented Kelly-Moore.