On the heels of National Asbestos Awareness Week, Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona signed House Bill 2603 limiting victims’ ability to recover losses. “While victims are entitled to compensation, we must prevent double recovery from occurring in the process. I want to ensure we’re doing everything possible to create an environment of transparency and fairness in Arizona’s legal system…” he said in a signing statement released Thursday.
In the bankruptcy process, many asbestos companies established multi-billion dollar trust funds to pay out personal injury damages. This new law requires plaintiffs to disclose all personal injury claims filed, or plan to file, against an asbestos trust. The law also allows companies being sued to ask a judge to delay proceedings if they believe the injured person may be able to make a claim with one of dozens of asbestos-injury trusts created by companies. Rep. Sonny Borrelli, (R) said trial attorneys have abused the trust system by filing multiple claims that are ultimately paid for out of the same fund. He said the new disclosure requirements would create more transparency for the courts and juries. “(The lawyers) exploit a loophole and their client gets awarded from a trust fund at the same time the lawyers sue the company of the product, and they have to dip into the trust fund again,” said Borrelli. “So in essence they are double dipping.”
The premise that recovering from bankruptcy trusts and then recovering from solvent companies after a lawsuit is “double dipping” is false. Also, this isn’t about the lawyers; it’s about workers who have been, unknowingly, exposed to a known carcinogen for years, by employers who knew better and didn’t care. Because the injured victim was typically exposed to multiple asbestos products at multiple job sites over a period of many years, he or she must file different claims, with different trusts, with different forms that request different information. This is not “double-dipping.” They are recovering a portion of their damages from each of the corporations who harmed them. A victim who files a claim with each entity responsible for making him or her sick is exercising the same legal right as any injured victim, trying to recover from any company that caused harmed. In fact, each trust is responsible for, and pays for, only its own share of the harm. For example, if a jury award for damages is $50,000 and the victim already received $25,000 through the trust, the defendant (solvent company) in the lawsuit would only be obligated to pay $25,000.
Asbestos companies have long sought to restrict the rights of those struggling with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases and minimize the company’s financial responsibility. Manufacturers of asbestos knew the danger of continued exposure to asbestos but they kept the vital information to themselves so as to continue getting more profit. Dating as far back as the 1930’s, asbestos companies and their insurers have been denying responsibility for the millions of deaths and illnesses caused by this deadly product, fought against liability for damage caused, and tried to change the laws that held them accountable.
Asbestos victims are already suffering from debilitating diseases; some die within six to 18 months of diagnosis. When a client is dying, a lawyer’s focus is to get his/her day in court. House Bill 2603 will allow a defendant to stop the trial, force a plaintiff to produce evidence in the bankruptcy trust claims and allow the defendant to use that evidence against the plaintiff. The asbestos industry is not interested in transparency and this bill is nothing more than another attempt to impede legitimate claims merely to protect corporations while robbing innocent cancer victims of full compensation and a quick end to their litigation. While trial lawyers are helping victims hold the wrongdoers accountable, the bill is clearly about delaying claims costing taxpayers more money in Medicare, Medicaid and public assistance while the actual wrongdoers receive a get out of jail free card.
Tort reformers routinely take away rights of every day citizens, by pushing laws like House Bill 2603, laws they know trample rights the constitution gives all of us. Rights of the American people are being limited and sacrificed on alter of corporate profit in all areas of tort litigation and all over the country. Don’t ignore these known facts until you are personally affected. Be the voice of the victims and their families, whose lives have been torn apart by corporate negligence. It is time to stand up to the corporations that have killed thousands of innocent victims and devastated families nation-wide.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.