S.C. Legislators Consider Asbestos Litigation Reform

February 6, 2006

To avoid the asbestos litigation crisis some states have experienced, South Carolina lawmakers have introduced legislation that will require
plaintiffs to meet specific medical criteria in order to bring or pursue an
asbestos- or silica-related lawsuit.

Senate Bill 1038, the South Carolina Asbestos and Silica Victims Protection Act of 2006, is similar to legislation recently enacted in Georgia, Florida, Ohio, and Texas.

“The crackdown on asbestos litigation in these states has prompted forum shopping in jurisdictions such as South Carolina where objective medical standards have not been adopted legislatively,” said Robert Herlong, vice president and regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “The court dockets in South Carolina may become crowded with asbestos cases filed by individuals who are not physically impaired. These cases clog the court system and drain resources that would be available to aid individuals who are truly sick. In addition, these cases can threaten the financial viability of South Carolina businesses.”

In 2005 Georgia, Florida and Texas followed up on successful asbestos and silica reform legislation enacted in Ohio in 2004. These laws protect the rights of workers with asbestos- and silica-related impairments. They reportedly help those who are truly sick obtain compensation in a fair and efficient manner while preserving the
legal rights of workers who have been exposed to asbestos, but are not showing any impairment.

States with the most acute asbestos litigation problems have reportedly felt compelled to act because of the political stalemate in Congress over the fate of asbestos trust fund legislation.

According to PCI, South Carolina’s SB 1038 establishes sound medical criteria for determining impairment caused by asbestos or silica. To eliminate abusive forum shopping, the proposed legislation requires an asbestos or silica claim be filed in the county where the plaintiff resides or the county in which the exposure to asbestos or
silica on which the claim is based occurred and that exposure was a substantial contributing factor to the physical impairment of the exposed person on which the plaintiff’s claim is based. It also establishes that each asbestos case must be tried on its own merits as an individual case, rather than being bundled together with many other cases.

“This bill provides a fair and reasonable approach to asbestos litigation,” said Rita Nowak, assistant vice president, commercial lines for PCI. “It will prevent workers from being pressured to file a lawsuit simply to beat the statute of limitations. In addition it will help stop the abuses caused by mass screenings and the inappropriate consolidation of cases.”

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