New bills aimed at curbing asbestos claims filed, House loses most 'effective' Republican opponent

By John Breslin | Feb 18, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY – A Missouri representative who last year successfully ushered through the House a bill aimed at curtailing claims over asbestos exposure that died in the Senate is making another attempt this session.

Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield) has filed HB216, which is similar to one that passed last year. It is not yet on the calendar for any committee hearing. The bill was prefiled on Dec. 10 and was given a second reading Jan. 10.

A companion bill, SB 69, was also filed and discussed at a hearing of the Senate Government Reform Committee on Feb. 12.

Both bills seek to require a claimant in a civil action to disclose any previous claims made to asbestos trusts, which hold compensation funds from bankrupt companies accused of exposing individuals to asbestos.

Defendants would also be able to file stays on proceedings in order to gather and introduce evidence of any previous or potential claims to bankruptcy trusts, which in turn would be admissible as evidence.

DeGroot's bill last year, the Asbestos Bankruptcy Transparency Act, was aimed at forcing a plaintiff into filing a civil claim in court to reveal any claims against the bankruptcy trusts. The representative argued that it would prevent "double recovery" and ensure the trusts remained solvent for longer.

DeGroot agreed his most "effective" adversary last year on the Republican side of the aisle, Jay Barnes, is no longer in the chamber.

"I do not think anyone in the House was as effective as Jay Barnes," De Groot told the St. Louis Record. "But despite his ardent efforts, the bill did pass."

Barnes, who was term limited, did lead the opposition to any limiting of the ability of individuals to claim compensation for asbestos poisoning.

The former representative, an attorney, last month was named as a shareholder in law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, which describes itself as "one of the nation’s leading mass tort and consumer protection law firms." It is one of the main firms involved in asbestos litigation.

“As a law firm dedicated to holding corporations accountable for wrongdoing, we are thrilled to welcome Jay to Simmons Hanly Conroy,” Managing Shareholder Michael J. Angelides said in a statement announcing the appointment. “Through his work investigating waste, fraud and abuse as both an attorney and state representative, Jay brings invaluable experience that makes him a strong advocate for our clients. We are proud to have him on our side.”

Barnes, in opposing the bill introduced last year, criticized the proposed legislation and used firefighters as an example of how it would be unfair, claiming the provisions would force them to prepare claims against every site they visited in the course of their work, according to a report on the House proceedings by NPR.

Barriers and delays thrown up in the face of a claimant are unfair, Barnes argued, adding that some who discover they have mesothelioma may only have three to six months to live.

"They can’t necessarily do all of the legwork needed to file suit before they die, and when they die, the evidence of where they were exposed dies with them,” Barnes said in the NPR news report. “They suffocate to death and are never able to have their day in court against the companies who poisoned them.”

On last year's bill dying in the Senate - it was placed on an informal calendar but not placed back on the list of bills for consideration - DeGroot said it did not know exactly what happened, describing the workings of the upper chamber as a "four-dimensional chess game...way too complicated."

DeGroot said his key aim in introducing the bills is to "preserve the trust assets" for those who contact cancer in the future. 

"There is a finite amount of money," the representative added.

His newly filed bill requires am individual making a claim in civil court to sign a sworn statement that all asbestos trust claims are over, and to hand over all materials relating to the latter.

It also allows a defendant in a civil action to file a stay motion containing any information on potential additional trust claims.

Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) is sponsoring legislation in the Senate, which he claimed would increase fairness for both the claimant and businesses, according to a report in the Coeur d'Alene Press.

Opponents claim the bill is designed to delay court proceedings in cases where many plaintiffs have only a limited time to live.

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