U.S. court rules that drugmaker Pfizer can face asbestos suits

NEW YORK, Tue Apr 10, 2012 – A federal appellate court ruled on Tuesday that drugmaker Pfizer can face asbestos liability suits in state court over products once manufactured by a bankrupt subsidiary, dragging out a dispute that has already lasted more than 30 years.

At issue is insulating products made by Pfizer unit Quigley Co. Inc. that contained asbestos. Quigley, which Pfizer bought in 1968, at one time faced suits by more than 160,000 plaintiffs. It filed for bankruptcy in 2004.

Pfizer reached a deal that year with lawyers representing more than 80 percent of claimants, which provided for about $430 million in settlement payments. Quigley filed for bankruptcy protection as part of that arrangement, which was aimed at resolving cases dating back to the late 1970s.

The bankruptcy court later ruled that an injunction it issued in the case stayed some suits that were still pending against Pfizer. In May 2011, a federal judge in New York reversed that order, and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling Tuesday.

The suits in question were filed starting in 1999 by plaintiffs’ lawyer Peter Angelos in Pennsylvania state court. Angelos, one of the best-known asbestos lawyers in the country, also owns the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

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