South Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas Governors Sign Medical Criteria Bills

June 5, 2006

South Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas have joined a growing number of states that have enacted laws that require plaintiffs to meet specific medical criteria in order to bring or pursue an asbestos- or silica-related lawsuit, according to a statement issued in Atlanta by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Within days of each other, the governors of South Carolina, Tennessee and Kansas signed bills that protect the rights of workers with asbestos- and silica-related impairments. PCI said these laws 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 felt compelled to act because of the political stalemate in Congress over asbestos legislation.

The Kansas Legislature was the first state this year to pass legislation that addresses the true victims of asbestos and silica exposure. The Silica and Asbestos Claims Act (SB 512) establishes reasonable medical standards to pursue a claim, requires a work and medical history, a diagnosis by a qualified physician, and recognized diagnostic tests. This bill also allows each asbestos case to be tried on its own merits, not as part of a “bundle” of claims that may include a few truly sick claimants and dozens of unimpaired claimants.

South Carolina enacted the Asbestos and Silica Victims Protection Act of 2006 (SB 1038), which is similar to the new Kansas law. Both the Kansas and South Carolina laws address asbestos and silica. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Silica Compensation Fairness Act (HB 3539) establishes that specific medical criteria be met before a lawsuit can progress, but it only applies to suits alleging a silica or mixed dust disease. “This new law is a positive development for Tennessee,” Robert Herlong, PCI vice president and regional manager said. “Now we would like to see lawmakers expand the law to include asbestos cases.”

In 2005 Georgia, Florida and Texas followed up on successful asbestos and silica reform legislation enacted in Ohio in 2004. “The crackdown on asbestos litigation in these states over the past couple years has prompted forum shopping in jurisdictions such as South Carolina where objective medical standards had not been adopted legislatively,” said Herlong.

To eliminate abusive forum shopping, these laws require 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.

“These new laws support our effort to bring greater fairness to asbestos and silica litigation,” said David Golden, PCI director of commercial lines. “These reforms will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, and prevent companies that did not produce asbestos or silica from being sued into bankruptcy. When states couple tort reforms that address issues such as joint and several liability and venue shopping along with these asbestos and silica medical criteria, such as Texas did, the abuse of the system can be dramatically reduced.”

Source: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

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