Asbestos and Toxic Torts

For decades, Duane Morris has developed effective strategies for defending clients against asbestos and toxic tort claims. Asbestos is the longest ongoing toxic tort litigation in U.S. history, with far-reaching implications for manufacturers, insurers and the legal system itself. As plaintiffs' lawyers promote aggressive and expansive new theories of liability, increasing numbers of companies who have marginal or nonexistent ties to asbestos now face the threat of years of costly lawsuits. More recently, plaintiffs' lawyers have applied tactics learned in asbestos litigation in bringing mass toxic tort claims against manufacturers of numerous industrial and pharmaceutical products.

At Duane Morris, we craft and implement defense and litigation strategies that match our client's specific needs. From our extensive experience in trying complex toxic torts to verdict, we know that strategic, coordinated case management helps control litigation costs and can lead to better outcomes. Our goal is to defend our clients from present claims and protect them from such claims in the future. We staff our matters as leanly as possible to achieve the best outcome for our clients. Our approach balances sophisticated legal thinking with the essential skills that define excellent trial lawyers: the ability to explain complex scientific facts in simple, yet persuasive terms. Understanding the emotional nature of many asbestos and toxic tort claims, our attorneys draw on both data and empathy to connect with juries. Working with our clients, we target key issues for appeals to make the playing field more level in the products liability arena.

Major companies in industries ranging from food, healthcare, pharmaceuticals to consumer products, automotive and heavy equipment turn to us for representation in national asbestos, toxic tort and products liability litigation. We have acted as one of two science defense coordinators and one of a handful of national trial counsel for Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation in their asbestos litigation. Duane Morris' experience includes product class actions, mass tort defense, and service on clients' national trial teams and as National Coordinating Counsel (NCC) in federal, state and multidistrict litigation. With our appellate practice group, our lawyers obtained the first state supreme court decision eliminating the "each and every breath" theory of causation from asbestos litigation in Pennsylvania. Our lawyers are sought for thoughtful leadership as NCC. We remain on guard for new toxic tort developments and have been published and quoted on best practices as NCC and in multidistrict litigation.

In addition to our experience with asbestos, we routinely represent manufacturing and industrial clients in other toxic torts class actions involving:

  • Silica and amorphous silica
  • Benzene and diesel fumes
  • Manganese and welding fumes
  • Pesticides
  • Mold
  • Chemicals, paints and coatings
  • Cleaners and degreasers
  • Ground water contamination

Strong results in the courtroom require keen preparation and dedicated litigation support resources. As one of the 100 largest law firms in the world, Duane Morris uses industry-leading data management and information sharing technology, backed by highly trained IT staff, to efficiently and effectively handle the immense data needs of large asbestos and toxic tort cases. In addition, our breadth of capabilities and geographic footprint help us assist clients with issues involving a wide range of legal disciplines in jurisdictions across the United States and around the world.

Representative Matters

  • Obtained decision from Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the “each and every breath” theory of causation lacks general acceptance under Frye in Betz v. Pneumo Abex.
  • Designed national defense strategy for manufacturer of welding consumables in manganese exposure cases.
  • Spurgeon E. and Mary A. Landis v. A.W. Chesterton Co., et al., Nos. 1541-1542 WDA 2009 (Pa. Super. Aug. 31, 2010) (reversing denial of motion for judgment on the pleadings and holding that the Workers' Compensation Act precludes a former employee from bringing a civil action against his former employer for a work-related asbestos injury, even if the employee's workers' compensation claim is time-barred under the Act).
  • Served as national coordinating counsel for industry group in asbestos cases.
  • Obtained defense verdicts in asbestos cases as regional counsel for a manufacturing defendant.
  • Defended steel company employer in toxic tort case where plaintiff-employee attempted to bypass the worker's compensation bar and claimed that employer intentionally injured employee.
  • Participated in and cross-examined experts and prepared post-trial brief in Frye hearing before the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The court ruled in favor of our client, a major automotive manufacturer, and found that the plaintiffs' experts lacked any methodology in arriving at their causation opinions.
  • Handled Frye hearing for two Fortune 100 companies challenging the admissibility of plaintiffs' experts' methodology in toxic-tort litigation in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in February 2008.
  • National science defense coordinator for two Fortune 100 companies in toxic-tort litigation. Involves expert development and oversight, trial preparation, coordination and strategy. Includes strategic oversight of numerous matters in 2007 and 2008.
  • Obtained a defense verdict for a major automotive manufacturer following a five-and-a-half week trial involving a peritoneal mesothelioma claim brought by a 44-year-old gentleman. The matter involved a unique claim for design defect of company’s braking system.
  • Obtained a defense verdict for an auto manufacturer following a two-and-a-half week asbestos trial. The jury found that the plaintiff had been exposed to asbestos, but that during the period of exposure, the auto manufacturer had not been negligent in placing asbestos-containing brakes into the market without a warning.
  • Defended rubber company in multiple suits alleging personal injuries from exposure to hazardous wastes that were allegedly discarded by the company.
  • Served as national coordinating counsel for a pharmaceutical company in its PPA diet and pharmaceutical products liability litigation. Representation includes responsibility for over 250 direct claims and approximately 540 contractual indemnity claims, oversight of local counsel in 18 states, oversight of federal Multi-District Litigation, and the development of corporate and expert witnesses.
  • Member of the national asbestos defense team for Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation and a member of their national trial team. Included trying significant case to verdict in the Superior Court of Delaware in 2007.
  • Served as national counsel for a contractor defendant in asbestos cases.

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"In my discussions with Duane Morris leaders, they frequently speak about how diversity within their firm has enabled them to better serve their diverse clients. They understand that investing in diversity is a wise business decision that positions them for the marketplace of the future."

Don Liu
Senior VP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary
Xerox Corporation

At Duane Morris, achieving diversity is paradoxical. By supporting and celebrating the differences of our attorneys - and the individual strengths that they bring - our firm culture expands, fostering creative solutions for our clients. But diversity at Duane Morris does not mean that we have a certain number of diverse attorneys; true diversity means that it is no longer noteworthy to see diverse lawyers leading our practice groups or managing client relationships. Ascending to positions of leadership and greater responsibility and providing the highest levels of client service is simply what is expected of all our lawyers. Diversity is another strong asset that adds to our collective abilities to meet the needs of our clients.

Our vision of diversity at Duane Morris is to realize an environment in which our lawyers' outstanding qualities are not just measured by ethnicity, race, gender and sexual orientation, but more importantly, that our lawyers are remarkable as excellent attorneys above all else. Only then can we celebrate our differences while focusing on the common pursuit of legal excellence which everyone shares at Duane Morris.

To reach this goal, Duane Morris understands that the familiar diversity strategies and policies that most law firms have are needed. Without demanding results from such policies, most law firms are bound to fail in even achieving numerical hiring and retention goals. Duane Morris has been proactive and ambitious in its efforts to improve diversity at the firm, and has set deadlines for reaching the milestones which mark our progress. To create a more diverse law firm, Duane Morris is:

  • Committed to strategically increasing our diversity levels, which is currently at 10 percent.
  • Bringing together our Diversity Committee and our Hiring and Retention Committee to raise diversity as an important factor in our hiring decisions.
  • Dedicated to improving retention by building upon our monitoring and mentoring program for all diverse associates.

Combining new initiatives with our longstanding diversity efforts, Duane Morris has seen increasingly positive results. In the Minority Law Journal's annual diversity survey of the nation's largest 260 firms, Duane Morris continued to improve its regional and national ranking, rising to number 136 of all firms surveyed. Our strides in Philadelphia are encouraging; in a city known for both the racial diversity of its population and the lack thereof in its law firms, Duane Morris is one of only two law firms to exceed the national average of minority partners at all law firms. Additionally, Duane Morris leads all national law firms based in Philadelphia in the number of Latino partners. Nearly 30 percent of all of our attorneys are women, and more than 20 percent of our partners are women.

In our approach to diversity, progress in racial, gender and cultural diversity cannot be measured in numbers alone. Duane Morris has focused our diversity initiatives on both increasing the number of diverse associates and addressing the challenges diverse attorneys face in building lasting careers and rising to senior and leadership positions. While several of our key practice groups are led by diverse partners and female partners, Duane Morris endeavors to create a culture which will foster a deep pool of such attorneys who can then develop into the firm's future leaders. Duane Morris understands that simply hiring diverse associates will not change the diversity of the firm; Duane Morris is working to mentor and retain diverse associates so that our progress in racial, gender and cultural diversity is also reflected at the highest levels of leadership within the firm.

Our progress on gender diversity has been profound. We have no glass ceilings: women hold positions of leadership at all levels of management at the firm. Women lead a number of our key practice groups, including our Energy, Immigration and International practices, and serve on the firm's Executive Committee. The success of our female attorneys at Duane Morris has not gone unnoticed. Barbara Adams was chair of the firm's Finance Practice until her appointment by Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell to serve as General Counsel of the Commonwealth. In 2004, our longtime General Counsel, Gene E.K. Pratter, was approved by the United States Senate and is now a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Our efforts to improve diversity extend beyond our firm's walls. The chair of our Diversity Committee, Nolan N. Atkinson, Jr., recognized the lack of diversity in Philadelphia's legal community and formed the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group. Nolan now serves as the chair of the organization, a consortium of 25 law firms and corporations that commits to employing at least one diverse first-year law student each as a summer associate. From this program, law students of diverse backgrounds gain access to what was once an exclusive legal community, and now have the opportunity to learn and develop their legal careers with experience at Philadelphia's top law firms.

In addition to our involvement in the Philadelphia area, Duane Morris has increased our presence at national conferences and events focused on diversity. We sponsor the Hispanic National Bar Association and its job fair. Duane Morris is also a longtime supporter and sponsor of the Equality Forum, a national gay and lesbian rights organization. Duane Morris continues to sponsor the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and is active in other associations of diverse attorneys including: the Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley; the Charles Houston Bar Association; Cuban Bar Association; Korean American Lawyers Association; National American Indian Housing Counsel and the National Bar Association.

The challenge of improving gender, ethnic and cultural diversity at Duane Morris is an ongoing effort that has the support of the entire firm. Duane Morris has been at the vanguard in supporting gender diversity throughout the firm beginning a generation ago. Our diversity programs are leading to similar success in improving racial and national origin diversity at Duane Morris. But even as we share these examples of Duane Morris attorneys and our involvement in numerous legal events, associations and programs for diversity, our hope is that such examples will no longer be necessary to mention in the future. We hope that through our efforts, and the efforts of other law firms, these stories become so common that they are no longer the remarkable accomplishments they are today, but simply routine aspects of the legal world tomorrow.