Between 1998 and 2000, more asbestos lawsuits were filed in Texas than in any other state, and that fact did not escape eyes of the state's legislators. To reduce and manage tens of thousands of asbestos cases, Texas lawmakers began adopting a series of reforms in the late 1990s. In 1997, Texas enacted a law to curb the filing of asbestos claims by nonresidents.
In 2003, the state legislature created a multidistrict litigation procedure (MDL) that designated specific courts to handle factually similar cases. But the most comprehensive reform of Texas asbestos litigation came in 2005 when the state adopted additional measures to manage and to reduce the number of pending asbestos cases.
Case Scheduling: Texas authorizes its trial courts to give scheduling preference to hearings and trials involving claimants with malignant mesothelioma or other malignant asbestos cancers.
Joinder of Claimants: Some U.S. courts have tried to move cases along faster by joining dissimilar claims (e.g., mesothelioma claims and claims by people with no impairments) for trial. Critics argue that, while these cases may encourage defendants to settle before trial, they do not address the merits of individual claims and can result in more lawsuits. Texas has chosen to avoid this method and instead requires all parties to consent to the joining of multiple claims for a single trial.
Medical Criteria: Texas law now limits claims by plaintiffs who do not yet have physical or functional impairments. The law requires claimants to satisfy detailed minimum medical criteria in order to proceed with their lawsuits. Claimants who cannot satisfy the requirements, but were exposed to asbestos, may voluntarily dismiss their lawsuits and file later.
Successor Liability: Texas law also limits the liability of a company that buys or merges with and assumes the asbestos liabilities of another company.
One of the popular asbestos-related claims filed in Texas and in other states involves mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer. These claims can help patients and families of patients recoup financial losses from medical bills and lack of income after a mesothelioma diagnosis. Although states like Texas are trying to slow down the filing of these cases, veterans are among the groups of people who seek help after being exposed to asbestos unknowingly.
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After all of the legislative measures taken in recent years, Texas remains one of the nation’s busiest states for asbestos litigation. In 2011, legislation was proposed that would make significant changes to existing Texas asbestos laws.
State Representative Doug Miller (R-73rd Dist.) introduced H.R. 2034 about the treatment of asbestos claims. The proposed law would require asbestos claimants to submit any claims to mesothelioma trust compensation funds before trial. Defendants would be able to access information about trust claims and also get settlement credit for any trust claim payments.
The bill would also authorize MDL courts to dismiss certain cases that have been pending more than six months with claimants who have failed to satisfy the medical criteria. If passed, several thousand asbestos lawsuits could be cleared from Texas court dockets.
Dan Patrick (R-7th District) introduced a similar bill, S.B. 1202, in the State Senate. The regular legislative session ended on June 1, 2011, followed by a special session which adjourned on June 29, 2011. As of adjournment, both bills were in committee with no votes taken.
These measures have only been proposed and have not become laws.
Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.
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