By Tom Hals
Jan 20 (Reuters) - U.S. personal injury lawyers allegedly concealed evidence and induced clients to commit perjury to drive up asbestos-related settlements and garner bigger fees, according to lawsuits unsealed on Tuesday in the bankruptcy of a gasket maker.
The unsealed racketeering complaints alleged that four law firms sued Garlock Sealing Technologies, which made asbestos-lined gaskets, while hiding evidence that their clients were exposed to asbestos products made by other companies.
The evidence was allegedly hidden because the other companies were bankrupt, making Garlock a much more attractive target for an asbestos lawsuit, according to the complaints.
Garlock, a unit of EnPro Industries, filed for bankruptcy in 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the face of the mounting cost of asbestos lawsuits.
The unsealed complaints cite many examples of alleged fraud, including the Shein Law Center's handling of a lawsuit by Vincent Golini, who was diagnosed with deadly mesothelioma in 2009.
Golini allegedly told Philadelphia-based Shein he was exposed to 14 asbestos products made by bankrupt companies including Owens Corning and Armstrong World Industries. But when Golini sued Garlock he denied exposure to any products made by a bankrupt manufacturer, according to the complaint.
After Garlock settled with Golini, Shein had Golini file claims with the asbestos trusts that were set up by Owens Corning and other bankrupt makers of asbestos products. Those trusts often pay only a small fraction of a claim.
Shein's lawyer, Daniel Brier of Myers Brier & Kelly, said the racketeering lawsuit is completely without merit and Shein represented its clients "ethically and properly".
Garlock's Chapter 11 case has drawn national attention due to the company's allegations that personal injury lawyers fraudulently inflated judgments and settlements.
The racketeering lawsuits were originally filed in early 2014. They were ordered unsealed last summer but only became available to the public on Tuesday.
The allegations in the unsealed documents appeared to have already been discussed publicly in an opinion in 2014 by Judge George Hodges. That opinion set Garlock's liability for asbestos at $125 million and said the company's past settlements were tainted by fraud.
The others were Belluck & Fox of New York; and Waters Kraus & Paul and Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett of Dallas. Mark Iola, a partner at Iola Galerston, also in Dallas, was also sued.
Attorneys for the law firms said Garlock was trying to relitigate settled cases and blame others for the consequences of its own conduct.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Jessica Dye in New York)