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Texas Bill Strengthens Rules On Asbestos And Silica Injury Claimants

20 June 2015No Comments

judge gavelTexas Governor Greg Abbott enacted a law requiring plaintiffs targeting bankrupt companies to file a trust claim before suing, and giving asbestos courts more aid to stay trials in such situations. Critics claim this will cause costly delays for plaintiffs with life-threatening illnesses. House Bill 1492 passed by the Texas House and Senate will enable asbestos courts to stay a trial until a claimant gives notice of all trust claims, and to modify a judgement based on a trust claim made after trial. According to the legislation, if a claimant fails to provide a notice of trust but receives a judgement from an asbestos or silica trust for an injury that also gave rise to a judgement against a defendant, the defendant can submit a motion for sanctions, including vacating the judgement and ordering a new trial.

NEW BILL CREATES CHALLENGES FOR ASBESTOS VICTIMS IN TRIAL

Under the bill, a defendant may file a motion to stay court proceedings if it believes the plaintiff could instead make a trust claim. The motion must include a list of asbestos trusts not disclosed and other supporting information, and a plaintiff may respond by providing proof he or she has made a trust claim identified in the motion and served notice. A spokesman for the governor, John Wittman said, ““Governor Abbott signed H.B. 1492 to increase transparency in asbestos litigation and shed light on the very real problem of double-dipping in cases relating to this issue.”
According to the bill, a plaintiff can also ask a court’s determination that a trust’s claims fees exceed the anticipated recovery. If the court determines that the fees do exceed the recovery, a claimant must provide the court with a verified statement of exposure history to asbestos covered by the trust. House Bill 1492 requires asbestos victims to go through many challenges before proceeding to trial, and lowers the standard of proof of asbestos exposure for manufacturers to shift the blame onto other bankrupt companies. Texas tort reform groups, such as Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, campaigned the bill, frequently asking Texans to urge their legislators to support the measure and stop personal injury lawyers from “double-dipping.” In asbestos cases, “double dipping” occurs when personal injury lawyers sue a company and claim its products harmed their clients while simultaneously filing claims with asbestos trusts blaming other products for the same exact harm.
Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, commended Texas for taking a meaningful step to improve its civil justice system by enacting a law to guard against double dip asbestos claims. “This law will help ensure that the tort and asbestos trust systems work together fairly to compensate claimants while discouraging fraudulent claims. It will also help Texas manufacturing companies and protect jobs by ensuring that companies are not bankrupted by abusive claims,” said Rickard in a statement.

REDEFINING TEXAS CIVIL LAW

Abbott also signed off on a court shopping reform. The bill closes a loophole for lawsuits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs. House Bill 1692 will amend the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code to read as follows: “In determining whether a case should be dismissed under this subchapter, the plaintiff’s choice of a forum in this state shall be given substantial deference, provided that the plaintiff is a legal resident of the state and the underlying litigation has a significant connection to this state.” Ultimately, the new law will redefine the word “plaintiff,” in Texas civil law. The term will no longer include a counterclaimant, cross-claimant, or third-party plaintiff or a person who is assigned a cause of action for personal injury, or who accepts an appointment as a personal representative in a wrongful death action in bad faith for purposes of affecting in any way the application of this section; An intervenor, beneficiary, next friend, or other derivative party to the plaintiff’s claim;  or a decedent’s estate, if the decedent was not a legal resident of this state at the time of death.

 

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