Rep. Tom Leek
TALLAHASSEE – A bill introduced in the House Legislature HB741 and soon to be in the Senate SB1582 would crack down on the practice of “double-dipping” by lawyers in asbestos exposure cases, seeking multiple recoveries for the same asbestos-related injury.
“The bill assures that victims of mesothelioma get access to their awards from both solvent defendants and the asbestos trust fund defendants as quickly as possible, and keeps lawyers from gaming the system by delaying asbestos trust fund applications until after the litigation against the solvent co-defendants,” Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach), sponsor of the bill, told the Florida Record. "It’s that simple.”
Asbestos, a mined mineral can cause cancer including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lungs.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Congress set up several asbestos trusts in 1994 to help compensate victims. The companies facing lawsuits pay into the trusts, which are payable to victims if the company goes bankrupt.
However, victims can still sue the companies directly in the court system without seeking money from trusts.
Leek sai that some attorneys wait to make claims from the trusts, but litigate against the company directly, and later make a claim against the trust, in effect seeking multiple recoveries for the same injury, inflating damage awards.
“By not pursuing the trust immediately you are delaying and denying the money that victim could have had immediately,” Leek told the Sentinel in an interview.
The report said the bill (HB 741) would require victims’ attorneys to show they have investigated all possible asbestos claims and would let a court place a lawsuit against a company on hold if a victim hadn’t sought a claim against a trust fund. It would also allow evidence in trust claims to be used in cases against existing businesses, requiring a court to deduct a trust claim award from damages awarded from an existing business.
Critics of the bill portray it as a dodge by insurance companies to delay proceedings so that claims go away entirely.
Bill Cotterall, a lobbyist for the Florida Justice Association, the main trial lawyer lobby, told the Sentinel patients with mesothelioma for example, often die within a few months after diagnosis.
Committee work on the House portion of the bill has been completed and is ready to be voted on in the Legislature. The Senate version of the bill is still in the committee stage.
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