Asbestos Company W.R. Grace & Co. Settles Eight Claims

On 23 October, the Associated Press reported that W.R. Grace & Company, the corporation responsible for the poisoning of the town of Libby, Montana, has settled eight of the cases against it as part of its Chapter 11 “reorganization” plan. W.R. Grace sought bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in 2001 in an attempt to escape its liabilities. Among the plaintiffs with whom the corporation has reached agreements are the Port of Seattle, the State of Washington, the Archdiocese of Little Rock (Arkansas), the Fargo (North Dakota) Housing and Redevelopment Authority, as well as the Fargo American Legion and two Minnesota churches. Grace officials of course deny any responsibility, despite the fact that six of its corporate officers are facing criminal charges in a federal court. A spokesman for the company was quoted as saying that the settlements are “in the best interest of its Chapter 11 estates to avoid further expense, inconvenience and the distraction of expensive, burdensome and protracted litigation over the claims’ merit and value.” The Maryland-based Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2001 following a series of articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the asbestos victims of Libby, Montana, where W.R. Grace & Co. was a major employer.

At that time, the corporation was facing 135,000 asbestos-related claims. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware, will be considering the settlement at the end of November. (It is worth mentioning at this point that Delaware’s current Attorney General, Joseph “Beau” Biden III, spent several years at a law firm representing asbestos victims.) The Port of Seattle and Washington State will receive the lion’s share of the nearly $18 million settlement. Should the Court approve the company’s “reorganization” plan, W.R. Grace would have thirty days in which to pay the claimants. (It’s also worth noting at this point that despite the bankruptcy, W.R. Grace’s corporate officers have continued to draw the kind of inflated salaries that have typified Corporate America, though their employees–naturally–have not fared nearly as well.) The Grace Corporation estimates its total asbestos liabilities at approximately $1.3 billion; however, claimants state that it is almost four times that amount.