Wisconsin Assembly Passes Bill Limiting Asbestos Lawsuits

A bill that effectively reduces the number asbestos lawsuits has passed in the Wisconsin Assembly.  The bill, which strongly resembles the “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act” originally formulated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), was passed by the Wisconsin Senate last week in a vote that was divided almost perfectly on party lines.  Similar legislation was passed in Ohio in 2012 and was introduced in 2013 in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Texas.

The Bill

The new bill would require plaintiffs who were exposed to asbestos to disclose how many businesses their lawyers plan to sue.  In addition to the disclosure requirement, the plaintiffs would also have to seek compensation from asbestos trusts before they can pursue more compensation through litigation.

Those in favor of the bill posit that the bill prevents plaintiffs from filing multiple claims against trust funds and individual businesses, while those opposed to the bill point out that that the changes are essentially adding another barrier for asbestos victims to overcome in order to collect damages for their injuries.

More on asbestos trust funds

Asbestos trust funds are fund established by particular companies to pay valid asbestos personal injury claims against a company.  Many of the companies that were sued for asbestos claims went bankrupt, and as a condition of their bankruptcy they were required to establish trust funds to help compensate victims of illnesses caused by asbestos.

Most of the time, the filing process for a trust fund claim is very similar to filing a lawsuit, but the process is somewhat more expedited because of the lack of a trial process, testimony, etc.  The evidence you need to substantiate your trust claim is proof of your medical condition and evidence of how and when you were exposed to asbestos.  These requirements are in place to limit individuals to only suing companies that exposed them to asbestos or companies that manufactured the products that exposed them to asbestos.  Otherwise, less stringent requirements would lead to a flood of frivolous trust fund claims.

Other requirements vary from state to state, but may include certain statutes of limitations and rules that are specific to the trust fund you are filing a claim against.

The effects of the bill on asbestos claims

Because many asbestos-related diseases – such as mesothelioma – take such a long time to be diagnosed, time is an important factor in filing claims.  Although the trust recovery process is faster than traditional litigations, many victims of asbestos exposure pursue trust fund claims and civil lawsuits concurrently.  The new bill would disallow that practice and require claimants to exhaust their trust fund remedies before filing lawsuits.

Another argument presented by those opposing the bill is that the new bill allows companies to drag out lawsuits and trust claims until a sick victim dies, hoping that the family chooses not to pursue further litigation.  This is an especially serious concern given the fact that many asbestos exposure victims die within a year after being diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers.

Contact an experienced asbestos attorney

Whether pursuing compensation through a trust fund or civil suit, the asbestos recovery system can be complicated.  An experienced attorney can help you navigate the process.  If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, contact an asbestos attorney today.

 

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