US automakers have hit a setback in their attempt to stave off soaring legal costs over thousands of asbestos-related lawsuits.

An appeals court in Philadelphia has thrown out a request by several companies to be named as ‘related parties’ in the bankruptcy of auto-parts maker Federal-Mogul Global Inc. – one of several dozen companies driven into bankruptcy by asbestos litigation.

The automakers had hoped that by being added to the case they could consolidate their asbestos lawsuits before a single bankruptcy judge.

Thousands of auto mechanics and factory workers have filed suit in recent years claiming they got cancer from handling brake parts containing asbestos fibres.

General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, BMW North America, Volvo, Rolls Royce Bentley Motor Cars and Nissan had all joined in the request.

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Lawyers say trying the carmakers individually in state court would cost billions and could expose the companies to as much as $100 billion in damages.

Plaintiffs say each case is unique and should be considered separately.

Consolidating the cases also forced people whose families had been harmed by asbestos to share any court award with thousands who weren’t sick and had filed “frivolous” suits.