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Dismissalof Owens Corning Suit Sought

November 22, 2001|Bloomberg News

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. and four other cigarette makers asked an Oakland judge to dismiss Owens Corning's lawsuit seeking $33 billion to offset claims by people with cancer and respiratory illnesses.

Lawyers for the tobacco companies argued that Owens Corning could no longer continue the suit in California after a Mississippi judge threw out a case with similar claims in May.

"They made the decision they wanted to roll the dice first in Mississippi," said Joe Escher, R.J. Reynolds' attorney. "You only get one shot at the same claim."

Owens Corning, the largest U.S. insulation maker and its subsidiary, Fibreboard Corp., sued R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris Cos. and three other cigarette makers in December 1997, seeking billions to help settle lawsuits with asbestos victims. The company alleged smoking contributed to cancer and other respiratory diseases developed by those victims.

By 1998, Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning had paid out more than $6 billion to settle hundreds of thousands of lawsuits over the asbestos-laden pipe insulation it once made.

The company said it was forced to seek bankruptcy protection in October 2000 after the number of asbestos suits increased.

Lawyers for Owens Corning asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ken Kawaichi to hold off on a decision until the Mississippi Supreme Court hears Owens Corning's appeal.

Laura Remington, Owens Corning's lawyer, said it wasn't clear to what extent Mississippi law diverges from California law and asked Kawaichi to give the company's subsidiary, Fibreboard, its day in court.

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