T&N awaits $185m ruling

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The Independent Online
MAGNUS GRIMOND

An asbestosis claim for $185m (pounds 116m) against T&N, the UK automotive engineering group, was last night hanging on the judgment of a US jury.

The case is one of the biggest, dating back to the days when, as Turner & Newall, the company was the world's biggest supplier of asbestos. It involves material installed in 1959 in the 60-storey Chase Manhattan Plaza, the New York headquarters of the bank of the same name.

In what is likely to be taken as a precedent for other cases, the jury was sent out at midday on Wednesday and was still deliberating when the court reconvened early yesterday. But the shares bounced 10p to 130p on optimism that T&N may not have to pay the full amount after a much larger claim was settled at a fraction of the previous estimated liability.

A $600m suit brought against 37 defendants, including T&N, has resulted in the UK group settling for pounds 6.5m, against earlier estimates that it might have to pay up to $50m. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had brought the case over asbestos installed in the three New York airports under its control and its headquarters in the World Trade Center.

In the Chase Manhattan case, $75m in damages and a further $110m in punitive damages are being sought. The bank has claimed that T&N knew or should have known that the product was dangerous and failed to warn the occupants. In its defence, the British company argued that Chase had given assurances to employees, customers and clients that the building, which remains in use, was safe.

Shares in T&N have slumped from a high of 260p in 1994 after it stunned the market a year ago by announcing it would be forced to make an additional pounds 100m provision to cover asbestosis claims.

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