MAC: Mines and Communities

Justice postponed - justice denied

Published by MAC on 2009-04-06

How much liability - if any - will UK mining company Vedanta shoulder,if and when it takes over the US' historically most damaging non-ferrous metals producer, Asarco?

That's a burning question which numerous Asarco ex-employees and other victims urgently want answered as Vedanta supremo, Anil Agarwal, puts in a revised bid - much reduced from its offer last year - and they continue to wait for judgment and justice.

Last month, a US district court judge ruled in favour of Asarco's claim that insurance policies, secured with a subsidiary of Allianz in the 1980s, excludes "only" direct claims of asbestosis and silicosis, rather than those associated with mesothelioma and,other diseases associated with asbestos exposure.

Allianz says this is a disingenous attempt by Asarco to make money, rather than face up to its responsibiity to meet a host of claims by former workers.

Meanwhile,all that Angarwal appears to have said ,regarding such obligations, is that Vedanta subsidiary, Sterlite, will not be assuming any "non operational" liabilties of Asarco.

It seems that thousands of poisoned workers will continue suffering and dying, as lawyers and companies continue to wrangle.

Asarco insurance bars only certain claims - Judge

By Santosh Nadgir

BANGALORE, March 18 2009

- A U.S. district court judge ruled that bankrupt copper miner Asarco LLC's insurance policies exclude only asbestosis claims and not other asbestos-related diseases, paving the way for the company to seek $60 million in insurance coverage.

In a motion filed with the court last April, Asarco had asked Judge Manuel Banales to hold that the "asbestosis exclusion" in its insurance policies with Fireman's Fund Insurance Co should refer to only claims arising out of the

specific disease and to none of the many other conditions caused by exposure to asbestos.

"The ruling will affect more than 100,000 claimants," Rhonda Orin, the lead insurance counsel for Asarco, told Reuters over the phone.

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos.

Asarco, which filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after it was sued for $1 billion over environmental clean-up and asbestos claims, bought three excess insurance policies from Fireman's Fund Insurance in the early 1980s.

All three policies excluded claims arising out of asbestosis and silicosis.

Fireman's Fund, a unit of Europe's largest insurer Allianz SE (ALVG.DE) did not immediately comment on the matter.

"It's a partial summary judgment -- meaning the case isn't over, but this issue is over. It is now the law of the case," Orin said, commenting on last week's ruling.

In a response to Asarco's motion, Fireman's Fund had said the move boiled down to a "disingenuous attempt" by Asarco to obtain a potential $60 million windfall

for claims that were meant to be excluded from coverage.

Earlier this month, India's Sterlite Industries (STRL.BO) agreed to pay $1.7 billion in cash and notes to buy Asarco. Sterlite is a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources (VED.L).

A wave of companies that filed for bankruptcy to deal with asbestos and environmental claims, like W.R. Grace & Co (GRA.N) and Congoleum Corp (CGMC.PK),

have been facing similar issues around how much liability insurance companies may have for asbestos-related claims.

The case is Asarco LLC et al vs. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co et al, 105th Judicial District Court, Nueces County, Texas. No 01-2680-D.

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