DALLAS and AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House of Representatives will vote Friday on legislation that benefits asbestos manufacturers and penalizes victims who are dying from exposure to asbestos. If the bill passes, victims of mesothelioma and other diseases caused by asbestos will suffer devastating consequences, according to Dallas attorney Jeffrey Simon, a name partner in Dallas’ Simon Greenstone Panatier, PC.
HB 1492, by Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, would prevent asbestos victims from taking their cases to trial until after they have filed numerous claims with trust funds set up by bankrupt asbestos manufacturers to pay some victims. The unconscionable delay created by the new requirements could mean victims of asbestos exposure die before they are able to have their day in court, Mr. Simon says.
Even more troubling than the delays, he says, is the fact that the bill also would lower the standard of proof of asbestos exposure – but only for asbestos manufacturers that want to pass blame onto bankrupt companies not in the courtroom to defend themselves.
“What’s so enraging is that the same corporate interests behind this bill did everything they could in 2009 to oppose a bill that would have lowered the standard of proof for causation for all parties, and bring Texas law in line with the law of a majority of other states. That standard was much higher than this bill proposes,” Mr. Simon says. “Corporate lobbyists claimed the 2009 bill would bring ‘junk science’ into the courtroom. Now they want to enact an even lower standard, but only for manufacturers that are trying to avoid responsibility for their dangerous products.
The bill allows asbestos lawsuit defendants to cite the bankruptcy trust claim forms, which the bill forces the asbestos victims to file, as the “cause” of the plaintiff’s cancer. Under current law ordered by the Texas Supreme Court, enormous detail about a person’s historical dose of asbestos exposure is required to prove an asbestos case. Trust claim forms established by Bankruptcy Courts do not require and rarely, if ever, seek that high level of detail regarding a claimant’s past asbestos exposure.
Therefore, under current Texas law, the trust claim forms lack enough detail to be relevant to prove causation, Mr. Simon explains. Consequently, the bill seeks to change the law to allow the trust claims, no matter how little detail they contain, to be sufficient to pass blame onto absent and bankrupt companies.
“In a nutshell, this bill helps asbestos defendants by deliberately undermining the rulings of the Texas Supreme Court,” Mr. Simon says. “It also allows asbestos manufacturers to delay going to trial. And when a dying mesothelioma victim has less than six months to live, any delay is too much. Many asbestos victims are retired military service members who spent decades serving our country. Creating a different standard for them compared to the corporations that made the products that are killing them is hypocritical and unconscionable.”