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Possible Changes to Asbestos Litigation

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Madison, WIProposed changes to asbestos claims have some people worried the alterations will slow down the asbestos lawsuit process, delaying lawsuits until plaintiffs have died. But the lawmaker who proposed the changes says they will help clarify whom plaintiffs hold responsible for asbestos cancer claims.

The LaCross Tribune (4/4/13) reports Rep. Andre Jacque has proposed a bill that would delay civil lawsuits alleging liability for asbestos-related diseases until the plaintiff states whether claims against now-bankrupt companies have also been filed. Plaintiffs can file lawsuits against now-bankrupt companies but do not always disclose that they have done so in lawsuits against still-solvent companies. Jacque says disclosing exactly which plaintiffs face asbestos-related claims will help to ensure defendants pay their fair share for the plaintiff's illness.

Critics, however, say the bill is designed to slow down litigation and delay it so the plaintiff will die before the lawsuit is finished. Jacque disputed the criticism, calling it “sickening” and said plaintiffs’ lawyers hide claims against bankrupt companies in the hope of obtaining the maximum award possible.

According to Insurance Journal (4/9/13), states that already have a similar bill in place or are considering one include Ohio, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Under the proposed bill, plaintiffs would have to disclose that they have filed a claim against a bankrupt company’s trust or that they plan to file such a claim. Documents related to all claim actions would have to be provided to all parties in the suit and any money won through the trust could be used to reduce payouts from solvent companies.

Asbestos lawsuits can be complicated because plaintiffs or victims who worked for multiple companies may be eligible to file a lawsuit against any of those companies believed to have contributed to the patient’s asbestos exposure. In some industries there are numerous ways employees can come into contact with asbestos over the course of a career.

One lawsuit was filed in New Orleans against multiple plaintiffs, including Centerpoint Energy Inc, and Nebraska Public Power District, alleging Robert Lee Phillips, an employee of those and other companies, developed mesothelioma and died after exposure on many occasions to asbestos and products that contained asbestos. The Louisiana Record (4/19/13) reports the plaintiff, Phillips’ wife, alleges negligence and failure to provide a safe work environment on the part of each of the defendants. The lawsuit seeks wrongful death and survival damages.

The lawsuit is Case No. 2:13-cv-00594.

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