A measure presented to the House Committee on House-Property/Casualty/Life Insurance on April 7 would require more transparency in Missouri state courts that are ruling on asbestos-related claims. House Bill 1270 would ensure that businesses that are sued in asbestos lawsuits in Missouri are held liable only for their fair share of the plaintiffs harm and keep companies from being forced to pay for the fault of others.
“The legislation will provide transparency for claims made and prevent evidence suppression,” said Mark Behrens, a national trust expert and attorney with shook Hardy & Bacon in Washington, who travelled to Missouri’s capitol to testify in support of the bill on behalf of the U.S. Chamber.
Asbestos litigation has bankrupted more than 80 companies. Trusts for these insolvent companies have been set up to pay damage claims outside of the court system.
There is a growing trend of claimants who have accessed bankruptcy trusts for compensation and who are now turning to solvent companies to sue for additional damages in civil courts. HB 1270 would not keep claimants from seeking civil action. However, the legislation would require a claimant to provide all parties in an action a sworn statement identifying each asbestos trust claim he or she has filed or reasonably anticipates filing against an asbestos trust, including all available information related to the claim.
“This legislation will prevent double-dipping in the system and limit the opportunity for fraud,” said Jay Atkins, who also testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Missouri Chamber.
Ohio passed similar legislation in 2012 and several other states are following Ohio’s lead.
The issue goes beyond asbestos. The bill has the potential to be adapted to other mass-tort situations where non-bankruptcy trusts have been established.
For more information on this issue, contact Jay Atkins, a registered lobbyist representing the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.