Q&A With Joseph Cagnoli
Joseph Cagnoli Jr., a partner in Goldberg Segalla’s Toxic Tort and Environmental practice group, knew he wanted to be a lawyer after a mock debate in his eighth grade history class. Since then he has built a reputation as one of the nation’s leading attorneys in oil, gas, and hydrofracturing matters, as well as a pioneering attorney in cases involving asbestos bankruptcy trusts.
While settling into his office Joe took some time to share his perspective on Goldberg Segalla and current trends in toxic tort and environmental law.
Why did you decide to join Goldberg Segalla? Are there any advantages to being at a firm like GS?
“For a few years now I’d hear about things going on at Goldberg Segalla — the success of Asbestos Case Tracker, being voted a Best Place to Work in Pennsylvania, and a culture that’s unlike other law firms. Continually hearing these things intrigued me. Then came a point where I felt that to truly expand my practice from primarily toxic tort and asbestos work into the environmental sphere as well, Goldberg Segalla would be a better partner.
“Before joining the firm, I sat down with a number of people, including Rick (Cohen), Neil (Goldberg), and Joe (Welter), and each person echoed the same cultural philosophy. The first time you hear something like that you think, ‘Yeah, everybody says it’s the greatest place to work, and full of fantastic people.’ But when you hear it again and again — and there’s real substance behind it, along with a detailed explanation as to how they derived this philosophy — you realize that it’s a real value, not just talk.”
What kinds of clients have you worked with? What industries have you done work for?
“I handle toxic tort, asbestos, and environmental matters for clients. I’ve worked with everyone from industrial and manufacturing equipment producers, to airplane manufacturers and companies involved in hydrofracturing, oil drilling, and wastewater injection. I also have one client that is 185 years old and started out making paper before evolving into a high-tech material production company.“
What is an asbestos bankruptcy trust? What has been your role in this area of litigation?
“Over the course of the history of asbestos litigation, it has driven nearly 100 companies into bankruptcy. Many of those companies have had an enormous amount of liability and claims against them when they went bankrupt. As a result, the courts have created trusts to process claims on a reduced value to get the claimants something from these bankrupt companies — usually far less than they might have paid had they stayed in the court system.
“I’ve studied and written extensively about the role of asbestos trusts in the remaining viable, third-party asbestos litigation across the country. My focus has been on how to prevent a solvent company from having to be financially responsible for the liabilities of one of these bankrupt companies.”
Are you seeing any new trends in asbestos litigation? What are you watching in that arena?
“What I’m seeing is that for the last decade, people have been predicting a decline in the number of new asbestos cases, but that’s not happening. The number of cases in the courts is actually remaining fairly even. We’re just not seeing the decline that was predicted by Rand and other studies that were done that identified the populations that were exposed, their ages, and the natural mortality curve.”
Where do you see oil, gas, and hydrofracturing law heading?
“Hydrofracturing, despite this modern pop of publicity and anti-fracking movements, has been around for 60 years. Advancements in extraction methods are allowing companies to minimize external impact, but litigation will continue to crop up — whether it’s for a leak in a well casing, or a singular spill. I don’t know that there’s going to be a spike in cases involving hydrofracturing or oil drilling, but I think claims will continue.”
You have producer credit in a 2014 documentary. Are you working on any other film projects?
“I’m currently consulting on a crime and courtroom drama based on the true story of an arsenic murder ring ran in Philadelphia back in the 1930s. Since it’s a crime and courtroom drama, I’m helping with the script and identifying how a scene might look. My focus is on trying to preserve courtroom authenticity in terms of actions and procedural dialogue, while accounting for time and perspective constraints when showing a court in a theatrical film. It’s a fun project that involves a very different way of thinking about the law.”