March 13, 2009  
ASBESTOS LITIGATION: Crown Cork Seeks Protection in North Dakota

Crown Cork & Seal Company, Inc., which has not done business in
North Dakota since 1997, is calling for legislators to enact a
law to protect them from asbestos liability since they are an
"innocent" corporation, reports.

Several other states have passed similar laws at the request of
Crown Cork. However, a Grand Forks, N.D., lawyer who has spent
decades representing asbestos-related claimants called House
Bill 1430 unconstitutional and a "Trojan horse."

David C. Thompson and other opponents and supporters of the bill
testified at a two-hour hearing on March 4, 2009 hosted jointly
by the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee and the
Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Thompson introduced a former construction worker, Ray Ehrens
of Mandan, who was diagnosed a year ago with mesothelioma. The
bill passed the House on a 53-41 vote on Feb. 11, 2009.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce supports the bill,
backing Crown Cork's contention that it has unfairly been made
to pay out more than US$600 million in asbestos-related expenses
since the 1960s because it merged with another company in 1963
that had once made asbestos products.

Company representatives said Crown Cork owned a dormant asbestos
division of Mundet Cork Co. for three months and said Crown Cork
never made asbestos in the three months it owned the division.

Michael Rowley, Crown's assistant secretary and assistant
general counsel, said, "At the time, they (Crown) didn't realize
there was any asbestos liability."

A lobbyist representing both Crown and the American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC), testified, saying ALEC and the Council
of State Governments have backed model legislation in the states
similar to HB 1430.

The lobbyist, Mark Behrens, said the bill is an issue of
fundamental fairness and the company has been "brought to the
brink of bankruptcy" by asbestos claims.

Other opponents testifying included the North Dakota AFL-CIO
president, Dave Kemnitz, who said he has asbestos scarring in
his lungs from his years working as an electrician and said
workers were no adequately warned about asbestos in the 1960s
and 1970s.

Al Austad, representing North Dakota trial lawyers, said the
bill will unfairly cause North Dakotans, including school
districts whose buildings contain asbestos, to bear costs that
Crown should bear.

Mr. Austad said the dangers of asbestos were known among
manufacturers as long ago as 1949 and Crown "knew or should have
known" when it bought Mundet in 1963 that it was taking on the
asbestos liability.

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