After ten years of searching for a balanced, bipartisan solution to the increasing number of asbestos lawsuits clogging the state's courts, the Senate unanimously passed a measure today that proposes to reduce the number of claims while protecting the rights of the afflicted. Senate Bill 15, by Senator Kyle Janek of Galveston, would address a number of problems associated with asbestos and silica litigations. "It's going to protect those workers that have been impaired, and we're going to protect those workers who have been exposed but are not yet impaired," said Janek.
People who inhale asbestos or silica matter in the course of their work over a number of years are prone to a number of different disorders, ranging from decreased lung capacity to mesothelioma, a deadly kind of lung cancer. Workers who are exposed to asbestos or silica are entitled to damages, but there are some problems surrounding these claims. Currently, once someone knows that they have been exposed to asbestos or silica, they must file a claim within two years or they forfeit their right to sue. Because many of the diseases associated with asbestos or silica exposure take years to develop, someone who sues before actual impairment can be demonstrated may receive damages that are less than they would have received if they were actually sick. That settlement might not cover the health-care costs incurred once actual illness develops. "What's happened over the years with the two-year statute of limitations is that workers who are exposed but not impaired were crowding the courtrooms, receiving only partial recovery, which hurt them later if in fact they became sick," said Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.
SB 15 would eliminate the statute of limitations, allowing anyone who is exposed to asbestos or silica to preserve their right to sue when or if actual illness develops. In fact, another provision of SB 15 would require a claimant to demonstrate actual impairment before they could file a claim. This is an effort to reduce the backlog of asbestos or silica lawsuits that are filling Texas courts.
Because of the sensitivity of this issue, Janek worked with all sides and parties in the Senate to ensure that all the Senators were comfortable with voting for SB 15. Some Senators were concerned that the bill could be changed in the House. To allay these fears, Janek assured the body that the bill they voted out today would be exactly the same as the bill signed into law, and that he would straighten out any changes made by the House in conference committee.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 28th, at 8 a.m. to consider the local and uncontested calendar, and will convene in regular session at 11 a.m.