Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a means for resolving mass tort claims
In recent years, a growing number of defendants have sought to use reorganization under chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code to obtain permanent and complete relief from mass tort claims. Many of these entities were defendants in asbestos bodily injury litigation, and were eligible for the special protections for such claims provided in Bankruptcy Code section 524(g). Yet defendants facing other types of claims – including those alleging bodily injury from silica, talc, silicone breast implants, opioid painkillers, and allegedly defective ear protection – also have pursued relief in bankruptcy cases. Several Roman Catholic dioceses, as well as the Boy Scouts of America, have used chapter 11 to seek permanent solutions to sex abuse claims.
The general outline of the chapter 11 strategy for all of these defendants is similar. A debtor entity obtains immediate relief from tort system litigation (and its attendant costs) by filing bankruptcy, due to the automatic stay of all litigation under Bankruptcy Code section 362. It then prepares a chapter 11 plan that establishes a settlement trust to resolve the mass tort claims against it. The debtor will ask a Bankruptcy Court to issue an injunction that will force mass tort claimants to forego tort litigation against the debtor, in favor of submitting to the settlement trust for resolution. The debtor’s aim is to emerge from the chapter 11 proceeding shorn of its mass tort obligations, with the settlement trust serving as the exclusive source of resolution for those claims on a permanent basis.