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Pfizer can face liability in asbestos suits, court rules

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer can be held liable for asbestos-related deaths and illness linked to products manufactured by a bankrupt subsidiary.


In the latest development in a legal dispute that dates back more than 30 years, Reuters reports that an appellate court has ruled the U.S. drug maker can be sued in state court over products once manufactured by Quigley Co. Inc., which Pfizer bought in 1968.


Quigley filed for bankruptcy in 2004 in an effort to resolve 411,000 asbestos personal-injury claims dating back to the late 1970s. The company’s Chapter 11 filing was one of the largest in a chain of corporate bankruptcy claims in the early 2000s that were initiated to deal with asbestos-related liability.


Pfizer was a defendant in about 280,000 of the lawsuits against Quigley, more than 80 percent of which the drug company settled in 2004 for a total of $430 million.


The suits that were still pending against Pfizer were stayed by the bankruptcy court, but that decision was reversed by a federal judge in New York in May, 2011. The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling this week.


The suits at the heart of the dispute were filed in a Pennsylvania court by Peter Angelos, one of the best-known asbestos lawyers in the country. Angelos had argued Pfizer was liable because the company allowed its label to be put on Quigley's asbestos-contaminated products.


The appellate court ruled in Angelos’ favor, citing what is known as "524(g)," the section of the bankruptcy code that deals specifically with asbestos liability cases, Reuters said.


In the 34-page ruling, the court’s three judges said, “We are confident that the Angelos reading of the statutory language at issue here is the correct one.”


Pfizer said in a statement that the court's ruling is “procedural and does not address the merits of the underlying claims, which we strongly dispute.”


"In the history of this litigation,” the statement continued, “Pfizer has never been found derivatively or directly liable for injuries allegedly caused by Quigley's asbestos-containing products."