TALLAHASSEE – Utah recently joined the growing list of states enacting laws to rein in asbestos fraud. The question is: will such reform take place in Florida?
Sponsored by State Rep. Brad Wilson and Senator J. Stuart Adams, Utah's Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act (House Bill 403) seeks to prevent the rampant double-dipping caused by asbestos claims plaintiffs filing claims with asbestos bankruptcy trusts and the tort system.
The Florida Justice Reform Institute (FJRI) is advocating for similar reform in Florida and has backed the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2015. The bill would require asbestos trusts to file quarterly reports providing information on all payouts made and personal information of claimants who receive payments in a publicly accessible database.
“What many in the business community believe is occurring – and if it is not occurring open up the (trusts) and let’s see – is that individuals are filing claims with the identical damages (claim) against different manufacturers of asbestos-type products,” William Large, president of the FJRI, told the Florida Record. “So, which is it? Is there one claim with one entity and cause, or are there multiple claims against other manufacturers?”
Large said it is highly unlikely for an individual to be exposed to asbestos multiple times from multiple products and defendants’ attorneys need to be aware of this kind of pattern to effectively defend the claims.
“If you come to me with your damages (claim) and you really do have the signs and symptoms of asbestosis and you are claiming this incident occurred a long time ago, it is extraordinarily difficult for me or for anybody to prove the veracity of your claims because there is no witnesses, many people have forgotten the names of their co-workers, there is no time sheets or anything like that,” Large said.
Placing himself in the position of a manufacturing company, Large said if his company manufactured an asbestos product and saw a claimant with asbestos-related symptoms, he would be inclined to pay the claim.
“And as those claims add up my CEO/CFO may make a decision based solely on business purposes that this is untenable and that we need to form our own bankruptcy trust in which all future claims can be handled administratively (through) the trust,” Large said.
Having access to information on a plaintiff’s claims history would go a long way in giving manufacturers and other businesses a chance to protect themselves against such abuse.
“So for me it is not the issue of double-dipping that I find so extraordinary; it is these multiple theories of liability,” Large said. “How many multiple theories of liability can there be? Which is it? What caused your ailment? That is the issue for me.”
Roughly 100 employers have been forced to declare bankruptcy partially or solely due to asbestos claims; and more than 10,000 companies have been named as defendants in asbestos-related lawsuits, according to HB 403.
Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin have all enacted similar laws.