Asbestos bill goes to Ohio governor

By Chris Dickerson | Dec 11, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) -- The Ohio House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill meant to stop the duplication of asbestos lawsuits.

It now heads to Gov. John Kasich's desk. He has said he will sign the measure that would require anyone to reveal all asbestos claims filed by them or for them. If they don't do so, the person could face perjury charges.

The bill passed the state Senate last week by a 19-14 vote. The House approved the Senate amendments to HB 380 on Tuesday by a 57-35 vote.

The bill, originally introduced by Representative Lou Blessing (R-Cincinnati), also would preserve the rights of victims to sue for asbestos-related damages and does not place a cap on awards.

Supporters of the bill say it would stop double-dipping by not allowing people to go after money from trusts of bankrupted companies created to compensate asbestos victims as well as filings lawsuits against current businesses.

Critics, however, say the measure would slow legitimate claims. And they say the bill would make Ohio the first state with such claim restrictions even though Ohio is among the states with the biggest backlog of asbestos claims.

Similar measures have been introduced in other states such as West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma as well as the U.S. House and Senate.

The Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice supports the measure.

"The problem with the two tracks is that there is a lack of full transparency between them," the Alliance says on a fact sheet about the issue. "In a lawsuit, claimants may tell the court about claims already made on trusts. However, they are not obligated to tell the court if they plan future claims to trusts. As a result, the system is rampant with inconsistent claims, fraud and 'double-dipping' from the trust accounts, and from lawsuit awards."

According to the Ohio Supreme Court, Cuyahoga County had more than 5,700 pending cases on its special asbestos docket at the end of September. And nearly all of Ohio's 88 counties have asbestos cases pending.

The Asbestos Victims Coalition says the bill would protect businesses rather than victims.

"This bill is designed to give a handout to the asbestos industry while robbing dying cancer victims of their constitutional rights," Anthony Gallucci, president of the Asbestos Victims Coalition, said in an Associated Press report. "The asbestos industry should be held accountable for the thousands of deaths and injuries."

The trust system operates independently of the tort system. More than 90 companies have gone through bankruptcy as a result of asbestos litigation, creating at least 60 trusts.

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