An asbestos litigation reform bill supported by the Alliance of American Insurers (AAI) and a broad coalition of businesses and insurers passed the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee late yesterday.
The bill, SB 496, will “raise the bar for the criteria necessary to bring an asbestos personal injury lawsuit, so that the truly injured may have their day in court,” said Joe Woods, Alliance Southwest Regional manager.
“The asbestos reform bill has now passed the first major hurdle of the session,” he noted. “The medical standards and inactive docket provisions of this bill make this a great day for those suffering from serious asbestos illness in that the bill will move them to the front of the line for compensation. The next major hurdle will be mustering the two-thirds majority vote needed to have the bill heard by the full Senate. The Alliance continues to work with businesses and insurers to push this much needed legislation and hopes to see the bill on the Senate floor next week.”
Woods explained that Texas is a notorious “magnet jurisdiction” for the filing of asbestos personal injury cases. “While the legislature previously amended the state’s venue law to restrict the filing of cases by non-residents and took steps to prevent venue shopping within the state, much still needs to be done to stem the growing tide of claims filed by non-impaired claimants,” he said. “The state is infamous for its broker-lawyers who solicit plaintiffs through advertising and questionable mass medical screenings.”
According to Woods, SB 496:
·Establishes medical criteria for asbestos claims. Chest x-rays – read by a certified B-reader – must show opacities of ILO grade 1/1 or greater or bilateral pleural encasement of ILO grade C2 or higher. Pulmonary function tests much show forced vital capacity equal to or less than 70 percent of predicted or total lung capacity of less than 70 percent of predicted;
·If these criteria aren’t met, puts the claimant on an inactive court docket until such time as the requisite level of impairment is shown. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations is tolled;
·Prohibits the filing of asbestos claims on behalf of a group or class;
·Amends the current Texas law regarding foreign corporations by adding a provision that the laws of the jurisdiction of incorporation of a foreign corporation licensed in Texas apply to any successor liability of the foreign corporation.
“These changes are particularly important because questionable diagnosis methods have resulted in a flood of new claims costing billions of dollars from people who aren’t sick from asbestos and likely never will be,” said John Lobert, Alliance senior vice president of state government affairs. “The changes included in SB 496 will put a stop to these meritless cases that are taking money away from the true victims of asbestos – those who are sick or dying.”
The Texas Asbestos Consumers Coalition, of which the Alliance is a member, and the Texas Civil Justice League have been working for some time to reportedly create an atmosphere conducive to change in the state.
“Texas has been a national leader in how NOT to handle asbestos cases, and the Alliance is pleased to see legislators stepping forward with a plan that should serve as a template for asbestos reform around the country,” added Woods.
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