Daily Archives: November 13, 2013

Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries deny, delay asbestos, hazard claims, suits, insiders allege

By Mark Greenblatt, Scripps News

 

For months, mysterious white flakes and construction dust fell on Nancy Lopez’s desk in the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.

No question the debris was worse after renovation crews worked the weekend. But really, the mess was getting out of hand. On that Monday in 1983, Lopez grabbed a rag and started dusting.

The impeccably dressed young administrative assistant finished tidying her office and set to work. Unknowingly, she had brushed off her desk, into the air and into her lungs deadly asbestos fibers.

Those tiny fibers stayed with Lopez for decades, and, in 2009, at age 54, she learned she was dying from mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer. She sued the construction company and the county for negligence and punitive damages.

Lopez didn’t realize her suit would eventually pit her against the empire built by acclaimed investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, Neb., has become one of the most powerful forces in asbestos and pollution litigation in the world.

Berkshire’s reach has grown so vast that if you or a loved one files an asbestos- or pollution-related lawsuit in America, like Lopez, you’re likely to encounter a Berkshire subsidiary.

Scripps interviewed more than 20 sources — some confidential — reviewed dozens of lawsuits and spoke with former insiders, who all allege the Berkshire-owned companies that handle its asbestos and pollution policies — National Indemnity Co. and Resolute Management Inc. — wrongfully delay or deny compensation to cancer victims and others to boost Berkshire’s profits. In multiple cases, courts and arbitrators have ruled that the Berkshire subsidiaries’ tactics have been in “bad faith” or intentional.

Through 25 known deals, insurers like American Insurance Group, CNA Financial Corp. and Lloyd’s of London have paid Berkshire to assume their risk for tens of billions of dollars in future asbestos and pollution claims. Read More