AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) - A legal reform group says legislation passed in 2005 to help Texas courts deal with asbestos and silica lawsuits has been successful.
The Texas Civil Justice League on Tuesday released a report, calling the legislation a "Texas success story." The law required plaintiffs to show certain medical evidence to move their lawsuits to an active docket and also asked judges in two multidistrict litigation courts to provide progress reports last year.
Harris County Judge Mark Davidson handled the asbestos MDL and Harris County Judge Tracy Christopher was appointed to the silica MDL, but was replaced by Judge Tad Halbach in 2009 after taking a job on an appeals court.
"A great majority of the cases in which a plaintiff has alleged a non-malignant disease have not filed the report necessary to move off the 'inactive docket,' so these cases are not consuming much of the MDL's time," the report says. "This phenomenon was not unexpected or unwarranted.
"These cases should not have been filed in the first place, and one goal of S.B. 15 was to set these cases to the side, at least temporarily.
Having non-malignancy cases on the sidelines has helped the more-seriously injured, mostly those stricken with mesothelioma, have their days in court, the report says.
The figures provided by the judges in reports submitted to the state Legislature show a large amount of cases on the inactive docket. As of Aug. 1, there were 7,959 cases on the asbestos docket, and only 1,517 were active.
"While the 1,517 active cases all are single exposed=person cases, most of the inactive cases are multi-plaintiff cases," the report says. "There are many plaintiffs whose cases are jointly filed and sitting on the inactive docket."
Davidson wrote that it is probably impossible to calculate the number of plaintiffs on the inactive docket. He said he heard estimates that they range from 25,000-84,000.
"For the most part, these are cases that are indefinitely abated until such a time, if any, that the plaintiff's breathing ability diminishes to the point that they meet the criteria."
Halbach's report showed that only 1 percent of plaintiffs have offered the required medical evidence in silica cases. There are an estimated 5,122-5,831 cases, and only 54 plaintiffs provided medical reports. And only 21 of those met the requirements.
"The criteria make it difficult, if not impossible, for a person with no or few pulmonary problems to seek redress," Davidson said. "That is a legitimate public policy well within the purview of the Legislature.
"A public policy concern that was enunciated at the time of enactment of Chapter 90 was to allow the sickest to be able to proceed in our courts. The relative ease of meeting the criteria for cancer patients and the preference given those cases certainly have aided that goal."
TCJL's report also explores the state's process for compensating asbestos claimants and the effect attorneys fees have on compensation. It can be found here.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.