BASF Faces Legacy Lawsuits from Engelhard

10.09.2015 -

BASF is facing around 300 lawsuits in the US as a legacy of its acquisition of catalyst manufacturer Engelhard in 2006. In the suits, plaintiffs allege that talc used in wall board, joint compound and auto body filler is responsible for medical conditions ranging from mesothelioma to lung disease.

With the 2006 buy of Engelhard for $5 billion in 2006, the German group inherited the catalyst maker’s liabilities but also the New Jersey-based industrial firm’s legacy of dodging allegations.

At the heart of a revived suit against BASF, for which class-action status is being sought, are claims that Engelhard and its lawyers lied about the presence of the asbestos in the talc and hid evidence. The company owned and operated a talc mine in Vermont from 1967 to 1983.

In a court filing dating from May of this year, quoted by international news media, BASF said the plaintiffs “face serious obstacles in attempting to certify a class based on events that took place in thousands of different asbestos cases litigated in different courts and at different points in time by different lawyers.”

The German group in 2009 settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who attributed her mesothelioma to contaminated clothing worn by her father, a research scientist for Engelhard, and from visits to his workplace. Both father and daughter have since died of lung disease.

Some legal experts now believe that up to10,000 asbestos-related cases could be reopened. BASF has been asked to produce dozens of documents the chemical giant maintains are confidential. Some claims date back to the 1970s.

With other lawsuits dismissed by the courts, companies and their insurers are said to have paid at least $70 billion to settle litigation up to 2005. The non-profit Rand Institute research group estimated recently that asbestos settlements currently pending or planned could ultimately cost companies and insurers more than $265 billion.