BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) – An attempt by the Idaho House of
Representatives to vet the claims of asbestos victims against the availability
of trust funds set up two decades ago has been shot down.
On March 7, the House Judiciary Committee, after four
hours of discussion, rejected the newly proposed Chapter 31, Title 6 to the
state’s law codes with a recorded voice vote.
The amendment, referred to as the Bankruptcy Trust Claims Transparency Act, would have required any claimant to submit all
asbestos claims they are making or intend to ever make to the appropriate court
within 45 days after the motion to file. These claims would also have had to
include statements or reports from the claimant or counsel revealing if such
claims could be eligible for reparations through any of the roughly 60 trusts
set up in the last 20 years.
In addition, the law would have required that all
parties to the matter have access to the trust research materials “including
all trust claims materials from all law firms connected to claimant” which
would net not only the names of the petitioning law firm, but any referring law
firm or any additional firm that has filed an asbestos trust claim on behalf of
Once this was done within the allotted time, the case
would be heard no sooner than 180 days from filing of the claim.
Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of
Commerce and Industry (IACI), one of the main sponsors of the bill, told Legal Newsline that the amendment would
have been a disclosure bill designed to ensure double dipping of trusts was not
Proponents of the proposed amendment, like the
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the IACI, have stated that
without such a law, the trusts would be rapidly depleted through
double-dipping, in which a claimant files with multiple trusts.
“The problem that we are
running into is not that these claims are illegitimate, but that these claims
will have one set of facts that are presented to the bankruptcy trust and [the
claimant will] go into a state court with another set of facts,” said LaBeau.
“What we’re saying is you
need to go to the bankruptcy trust, that is appropriate, and then you need to
take that same information and present that to the state courts.”
The federal Government Accounting Office (GAO) has reported
that asbestos claims have resulted in the bankruptcy of more than 100 businesses, in
which “eighty-five corporations…filed for bankruptcy because of asbestos
liabilities and several insurance companies have either failed or are in
financial distress,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in report filed in March 2017.
NBER soberly notes that “[l]egal claims for injuries
from asbestos involve more plaintiffs, more defendants, and higher costs than
any other type of personal injury litigation in U.S. history.” As of 2011, $54
billion has already been paid out in asbestos claims, with lawyers capturing a
stunning $34 billion, or 63 percent, of the monetary awards. It is estimated that eventual
claims will total “$200 billion to $265 billion," leaving attorneys (if the
formula remains constant) pocketing $126 to $166 billion in fees.
Linda Reinstein, president/CEO of the Asbestos Disease
Awareness Organization (ADAO), praised the elimination of the amendment and
told Legal Newsline that “[t]he Idaho State House
Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee recognized this was just another
industry ploy to delay and deny asbestos victims justice.”
Reinstein went on to say
that Idaho lawmakers should focus more on “preventing
asbestos exposure in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities” and less on
searching for industry bailouts.
“Each year, an estimated 15,000 Americans die from
preventable asbestos-caused diseases,” Reinstein reported. “Asbestos kills. I
know, I buried my husband.”