A Louisiana Senate Judiciary committee this week boldly stopped a bill threatening to curb the rights of mesothelioma patients and reduce liability for big businesses that manufactured or used asbestos products.
The bill already had passed in the House of Representatives before the Senate committee voted against it. Louisiana, which has a high incidence of mesothelioma, was trying to become the first state to pass this kind of anti-victim legislation.
Ohio and Oklahoma also have been working on similar legislation.
At issue is the relationship between the more than 60 asbestos bankruptcy trusts and the country’s legal system. The two currently operate independently of each other, which is how the trusts were designed.
The Louisiana bill (HB 477) would have required plaintiffs to provide a complete list of potential bankruptcy claims in the early stages of a lawsuit, likely slowing down an already tedious process for patients already short on time.
Asbestos is the naturally-occurring mineral that causes a variety of respiratory illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Bill Defeated by a Bi-Partisan Vote
Despite warnings from a variety of health organizations, many companies continued extensive use of asbestos, putting workers and consumers at risk.
An estimated 90 United States-based companies have filed for bankruptcy because of the asbestos lawsuits filed against them, creating approximately 60 different trusts to pay out present and future claims to those who were harmed by the toxic product. There is an estimated $37 billion combined in the trusts today. The biggest single trust was created by Halliburton, worth approximately $4 billion.
Proponents of the bill in Louisiana were claiming it would provide more transparency to the litigation process, although opponents believe it would only complicate the issue.
The United States Government Accountability Office investigated the Trust System last fall and concluded there was no fraud in the system.
The Louisiana bill, which was promoted by the big-business interests, was defeated by a bi-partisan, 4-2 committee vote. Voting against it was Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Danny Martiny, R-Metairie; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; and Rick Ward, D-Port Allen.
In a typical asbestos lawsuit, a defendant may be held partly at fault and forced to pay a percentage of the verdict. By including compensation from the bankruptcy, which the bill would have done if passed, the defendants would be paying a smaller share of the damages.