Issues Facing the 79th Legislature
(Austin) - Asbestos was once widely used in the United States for construction and insulation. Breathing in microscopic amounts of asbestos fibers can result in cancer and debilitating illness, but it may take decades before the damage becomes evident. In the 1970s, the implications of workplace exposure to asbestos became apparent as injured and dying workers began to file claims. There are now claims for billions of dollars filed by hundreds of thousands of persons who were exposed to asbestos. These actions often claim that asbestos manufacturers knew early on of the risk of workplace exposure to asbestos, but concealed the evidence and failed to take steps to protect those working with or around asbestos. In 2002, one study estimated that more than 600,000 asbestos claims and lawsuits had been filed. As asbestos manufacturers began filing for bankruptcy in the face of mounting claims and awards, claimants expanded their actions to include others in the distribution chain, such as distributors, installers, and successor corporations.
One issue is the filing of claims by those who have been exposed to asbestos, but do not have any current health problems. Plaintiffs' attorneys argue that these plaintiffs have suffered a tort injury and may in the future develop the deadly and debilitating illnesses associated with exposure; also, filing such claims may be necessary to protect claimants from losing their right to sue pursuant to the statute of limitations. Opponents claim that aggressive plaintiffs attorneys are "beating the bushes" for claimants and that 50 to 90 percent of claimants have little or no impairment as a result of exposure. They assert that such allegedly frivolous actions have resulted in expensive and complex litigation that potentially involves dozens of defendants, drives companies out of business, hurts the economy, and results in lower awards for those claimants who are truly suffering from the effects of exposure.
The 78th Legislature, Regular Session, enacted legislation limiting the liability of certain successor corporations for the asbestos-related liabilities of a corporation acquired through merger or consolidations. Legislation was introduced, but not enacted, that would have: established medical criteria for determining whether a claimant in an asbestos exposure claim was suffering from actual impairment; placed claims where there was no actual impairment in an inactive docket, but waived the statute of limitations for such claims; set forth a procedure for transferring claims from the inactive docket if the claimant developed impairment; and given trial preference to claims involving malignant conditions resulting from asbestos exposure. Similar proposals may be introduced in the 79th Legislature.
Congress is also considering imposing limitations on the filing of asbestos claims and creating a trust fund to compensate asbestos exposure victims, but those supporting action by the Texas legislature argue that it is urgent for the state to address this issue, regardless of what congress does. Opponents assert that such legislative proposals are being promoted by business interests and do not adequately protect the rights of injured plaintiffs.
This article is taken from the Senate Research Center publication entitled "Issues Facing the 79th Legislature," and more issues from the report will be highlighted in future Capitol Updates. To view the entire report, please go to www.senate.state.tx.us or call my office to receive a hard copy.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0556 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: email@example.com.