Miss. bill would require more asbestos claim transparency

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 31, 2013

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A bill recently introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives would require asbestos claimants to disclose dealings with asbestos trusts.

House Bill 529 was introduced recently by Representative Jerry Turner, a Republican. It currently is placed in the Judiciary A Committee. If it isn't taken up by that committee, the bill will die for this session.

The bill, if passed, would require a claimant to provide a sworn statement identifying all existing asbestos trust claims made by or on behalf of him. The claimant also would have to provide all trust claim material and information regarding the claims. This statement would have to be disclosed within 30 days of the start of discovery in the case. If trust claims were made after the filing of the suit, the claimant would have 30 days to disclose those as well.

If there are issues with trusts found, the bill would give defendants in an asbestos case 75 days before the start of trial to stay the proceedings with credible evidence.

The bill also says that if a claimant files a claim with an asbestos trust after obtaining a judgment in court, the court can reopen the case and adjust the judgment or order other relief to parties in the case.

If adopted, the law would apply to asbestos claims filed on or after July 1, 2013, and to pending cases in which trial hasn't started on that date.

"To date, approximately one hundred (100) employers have declared bankruptcy at least partially due to asbestos-related liability, as found in a 2011 report by the United States Government Accountability Office," the legislation states. "These bankruptcies have resulted in the search for more solvent companies. Researchers for the RAND Corporation estimated in a 2005 report that the number of asbestos defendants now includes over eight thousand five hundred (8,500) companies, including many small- and medium-sized companies, in industries that cover eighty-five percent (85 percent) of the United States economy.

"Asbestos claimants often seek compensation for alleged asbestos-related conditions from civil defendants that remain solvent in civil court tort actions and from trusts or claims facilities formed in asbestos bankruptcy proceedings. ... There is limited coordination and transparency between these two (2) paths to recovery. The courts have already experienced the problem of instances of claimants failing to provide information and materials regarding asbestos trust claims that they have commenced.

"It is in the interest of justice that there be transparency for claims made in the bankruptcy system and for claims made in civil asbestos litigation. ... The current lack of transparency in the tort system may result in businesses in this state being unfairly penalized and deprived of their rights."

It also says new asbestos trust continue to be formed. The U.S. GAO estimates that current trust control more than $36 billion in assets.

"As a consequence, it is critical to the interests of justice and to the economy of the state that the distribution of these assets be made in a manner that incorporates full and consistent disclosure when recovery is sought through an asbestos tort action in this state against solvent companies or through a trust claim against a bankrupt entity.

"All relevant asbestos exposure information should be made available in a timely manner so that solvent companies do not unnecessarily absorb the liabilities of bankrupt trust entities that are not subject to tort actions. Transparency will help ensure that all responsible parties are allocated an equitable share of any liability and will encourage injured persons to promptly seek an appropriate recovery from all appropriate sources."

The bill is similar to one recently passed by the Ohio legislature.

Neither Turner, the Mississippi bill's sponsor, nor House Judiciary A Chairman Mark Baker, also a Republican, opted to comment on the legislation. Baker is rumored to be considering a run for state Attorney General against incumbent Jim Hood.

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