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Published: 6/10/2008

Long wait is norm for Owens Corning asbestos claimants

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Twelve months after first submitting claims for clients with asbestos-related diseases, attorney Jimmy Rodgers is waiting to collect from the Owens Corning/Fibreboard Asbestos Personal Injury Trust.

He doesn't blame trust employees in Delaware, but rather the long line of claimants awaiting compensation.

"You can't place blame on the trust, because they have had to contend with so many claims," said Mr. Rogers, of Chattanooga, Tenn.

Since starting in late October, 2006, the trust has paid $390 million on 70,000 claims submitted by people - primarily construction workers, ship-builders, and others - who developed lung diseases from working around asbestos-containing insulation and other products once made by Toledo-based Owens Corning and its Fibreboard subsidiary.

As part of OC's six-year bankruptcy case, the trust assumed responsibility for compensating victims. OC kicked in a multibillion-dollar pot of cash and stock to shed the liability.

The trust has received an additional 256,000 claims and faces new demands for compensation daily.

The statistics are contained in the trust's first detailed financial report, filed this spring in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del. The filing is a bare-bones financial statement with no commentary on whether payments are meeting or exceeding expectations.

"The ultimate number of asbestos claims to be filed and the liability for all such claims are not determinable at this time," trustees wrote. "The net assets available for the payment of claims at Dec. 31, 2007, may or may not be sufficient to meet all future obligations of the trust."

The trust's attorneys at Campbell & Lavine in Delaware didn't return calls for comment.

Harry Huge, lead trustee, couldn't be reached at his home in Charleston, S.C.

The trust contains $4.5 billion, about a third of which is OC stock. It is the Toledo firm's largest shareholder, with 28.2 million shares or nearly a fourth of all company stock. The failure of the shares to achieve an expected trading price of $30 each in a slumping housing market led the trust to report a $288 million loss in the value of its stock holdings.

On the upside, the trust collected $43 million from settlements with OC's insurance firms.

Asbestos claimants and their lawyers are keenly interested in how the trust's assets are performing because of major problems with a similar trust at Johns-Manville Corp. that forced trustees there to vastly trim payouts.

Most payments have gone to people who settled with OC years ago but whose settlements were tied up by the firm's bankruptcy filing in October, 2000.

Just $16 million has gone toward 2,500 newer claims, about 9 percent of which involved people with cancer.

Mr. Rodgers, the Chattanooga lawyer, is awaiting word on about 200 claims filed with the trust. Except for very ill people, claims are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, he said.

Filing is easier because the OC trust allows claims to be submitted over the Internet, he said. "By and large, I'm fairly pleased with how it's operated," he said of the trust and the procedure to obtain compensation.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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