ST. LOUIS – Legislation regarding asbestos transparency is on its way to approval, which would ideally both help plaintiffs receive awards for damages and prevent the other parties from being ruined by lawsuits.
Introduced in the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018, H.B. 1645 was sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield), and is meant as a way of limiting the damages that would be suffered by the trust fund parties in asbestos-related lawsuits.
Currently as the system stands, victims who have pleaded suffering from asbestos damages are being awarded massive awards, but the damages to businesses are also becoming more widespread.
As reported in this article by St. Louis Record, Associated Industries of Missouri President and CEO Ray McCarty explained that certain individuals are essentially "double-dipping" when it comes to awards.
"The current system allows a plaintiff to file a civil suit against a business that is currently in business, get a settlement or judgment against that entity, then file a claim against a trust," McCarty previously told the St. Louis Record.
While filing related claims may not be a problem in and of itself, McCarty explained that the asbestos trust funds are incredibly simple to obtain, and there are no requirements that a plaintiff must make before filing a claim against a trust fund, making the multiple litigations highly lucrative for a plaintiff.
DeGroot's sponsored bill will, in theory, prevent plaintiffs from going after another party when in reality they should simply seek out a settlement from trust funds, which were set up to reimburse victims for damages suffered.
"We believe litigants that have a claim against one of the asbestos trust funds should seek remedy from those funds first before pursuing a lawsuit against another party," McCarty explained in the March 20 article.
H.B. 1645, has made progress since it was introduced earlier this year.
"The bill passed out of the House with 96 votes. It had broad support," DeGroot told St. Louis Record. "The bill has been sent to the Senate. The Senate Committee heard the bill two or three weeks ago and it passed out of the Senate Committee 5-2."
DeGroot explained that the next step for the bill is that it heads to the floor of the Senate, where he is hopeful of its outcome.
"I hope that it will pass," DeGroot said. "This bill prevents double-dipping. What's happening is plaintiffs, and their attorneys in particular, are raiding these bankruptcy trusts and depleting their assets, so that the guy standing at the back of the line, who we probably don't even know who it is yet, won't have assets remaining in the trust by the time they file their claims."
DeGroot explained that his bill seeks to even the playing field by removing the option of double-dipping.
"This is another important step towards returning Missouri to the 'show me' state, rather than the 'sue me" state," DeGroot said. "It is a tort-reform bill that will encourage business within the state of Missouri."
The St. Louis Record reached out to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to ask for comment on the legislation and current situation in regards to asbestos recovery. Missouri DNR is the state's agency responsible for overseeing asbestos abatement projects in the state, according to its website. The department declined providing a comment, stating that it had none for legislation pending before the General Assembly.
Another area in Missouri litigation reform that's developing in 2018 is that of consumer protection in representation, and particularly consumer protection when it comes to what has been labeled "predatory lending," a system which requires plaintiffs to pay upfront for representation in court is underway.
S.B. 957, which was lobbied by Lathrop Gage attorney Kurt Schaefer on behalf of Lathrop Gage in Jefferson City, was designed with the consumer in mind and would guarantee them certain protections under the law, including a 17 percent cap on interest rates and regulations to prevent extraordinary damages to consumers. The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Paul Wieland (R-Jefferson City).
The bill has been met with opposition by those who believe that defendants in a litigation may not be treated fairly as plaintiffs with less-than-sound cases endeavor to win their cases, lest they be held responsible for the amount that they were loaned.
Schaefer, who was also a two-term senator, was unavailable to comment on the current status of the bill when contacted by the St. Louis Record.