Ohio House passes bill targeting asbestos trusts

John O'Brien Jan. 27, 2012, 3:00pm


COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) - A bill that would require plaintiffs in asbestos lawsuits to disclose the claims they've made for recovery to bankruptcy trusts passed the Ohio House of Representatives Wednesday.

House Bill 380, sponsored by a group of Republicans, passed with a 55-41 vote.

Bankruptcy trusts were set up by companies that were frequently involved in asbestos litigation to pay out claimants in a system independent of the civil courts system, where victims of asbestos exposure file lawsuits against still-solvent defendants.

"(A) claimant, under penalty of perjury, identifying all existing asbestos trust claims made by or on behalf of the claimant and all trust claims material pertaining to each identified asbestos trust claim," the bill says.

"The sworn statement shall disclose the date on which each asbestos trust claim against the relevant asbestos trust was made and whether any request for a deferral, delay, suspension or tolling of the asbestos trust claims process has been submitted."

The two sides of asbestos litigation have argued over whether information from trust claims should be supplied to defendants.

One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Lou Blessing, told the Columbus Dispatch that "openness in legal proceedings is good and helps ensure that justice is fairly administered."

Friday, plaintiffs attorney Nathan Finch of Motley Rice said Jan. 20 at a discussion of bankruptcy trusts that any reform to the system is unnecessary. The event was put on in Washington, D.C., by the Congressional Civil Justice Caucus Academy.

"The whole idea that there is fraud and abuse because of a lack of transparency is not supported by facts," Finch said.

Also at the discussion was defense attorney James Stengel.

"The critical information is what the plaintiffs are saying about their asbestos exposure," he said.

That information, Stengel argues, could help determine which companies bear the responsibility of paying the claimant. A plaintiff could omit any asbestos exposure resolved by the trust system in his or her lawsuit, making it seem the defendants are at fault for all injuries, Stengel feels.

If the information of other exposure were provided to defendants, they could argue that they aren't wholly responsible. He called the trust system "parallel but distant."

"It may mean that the wrong people are paying," Stengel said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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