A contentious measure dealing with asbestos claims seems to have stalled in the Missouri legislature.
Republican State Representative Bruce Degroot of Chesterfield wants to prevent plaintiffs from “double dipping” to financially recapture the harm they’ve been done.
Under the scenario, a jury determined sum of money is paid to a plaintiff by a solvent defendant, but the plaintiff then seeks and receives further compensation from trust fund for the same harm.
Supporters of the bill say it’ll protect against trust funds, which have limited resources, from being depleted. Asbestos bankruptcy trusts compensate workers and families injured by negligent, defunct companies that manufactured asbestos in the United States.
Degroot is proposing to require plaintiffs claiming damages to disclose all trust claims they’ve made so that juries would be fully informed before awarding damages.
Critics of the legislation, including lawyers for asbestos victims, claim its provisions allow asbestos manufacturers to delay settlements in court.
They say it also requires plaintiffs to file certain claims through trusts composed of healthy companies that have filed bankruptcy to lessen their costs.
Bart Baumstark with the O’Brien Law Firm in St. Louis testified before a House committee looking at the measure. He says the way the trust system works strips plaintiffs of much of the damages they’re due.
“I sign a document that says the settlement amount is $350,000,” said Baumstark. ‘Do I receive $350,000? No, I don’t receive anywhere near that. I receive, on average, $17,000.”
Degroot is a lawyer who says the current arrangement allows plaintiffs to abuse the system.
“I will fight tooth and nail for anybody to get exactly what their claim is worth,” said Degroot. “I really believe that, by the way. What I don’t agree with is getting two and three times what your case is worth. And that’s the situation we have here.”
Representative Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, says plaintiffs should be allowed to obtain damages from both solvent defendants and asbestos trusts composed of bankrupt firms.
“One of those entities may be solvent,” said Mitten. “One may not be solvent. One might be 50% at fault. The other might be 50% at fault. But the bottom line is that what we are really talking about is what is the cost of a life.”
Among the most well-known manufacturers of asbestos are Johns-Manville Corporation and Owens Corning.
A number of veteran’s organizations support the legislation. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance claims as many as 30% of all Americans with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed while on active duty.
Further action on the proposed limits to asbestos claims have been postponed in the House Litigation Reform Committee.