Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill that would further tip the scale of justice in favor of irresponsible asbestos companies, a move we consider unconscionable.
Simply put, Ohio’s House Bill 380 would force individuals involved in civil litigation against solvent asbestos companies to disclose to the courts whether they have submitted bankruptcy trust claims against other asbestos companies. On the surface this disclosure seems appropriate and proponents say it will bring much-needed transparency. But a close look at its full ramifications reveals a dark side: in fact HB 380 severely limits the rights of people with mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused only by asbestos, to receive anything approaching full compensation from the companies that knowingly put them in harm’s way.
Why does this matter?
There are about 60 bankruptcy trusts that have been established to compensate asbestos claimants in the United States. And for good reason – companies like John Manville deliberately exposed unprotected workers to asbestos, a known carcinogen, for decades. And the courts ruled years ago that these companies could not use bankruptcy as a “get out of jail free card” for workers who later developed asbestos-related diseases.
Since people who develop asbestos diseases generally have multiple exposure sources, laws in most states allow people with mesothelioma to pursue both civil litigation and bankruptcy trust claims.
This makes sense. After all, if you are a former construction worker and you were exposed to multiple asbestos-containing products, shouldn’t each of the responsible companies share the blame – and contribute to your compensation? (Reality check here: mesothelioma is a horribly painful and fatal cancer so we are not talking about here about some kind of litigation lottery.)
Lou Blessing, HB 380’s author, begs to differ, even throwing in some casino slang: “Multiple tracks to recovery unfortunately means there are multiple opportunities to game the system,” Blessing is quoted as saying in one media report. “This has led to some asbestos claimants receiving full compensation from multiple sources and defendants paying more than their share of claims.”
Really? Blessing and his supporters have failed to provide one shred of evidence supporting this argument. In fact, it’s proven that asbestos trust recoveries cover only a small fraction of a patient’s medical bills – bills that can climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for basic care. (For example, if a trust values a mesothelioma claim at $100,000 it only pays only cents on the dollar for the claim.)
Blessing even goes on to say this bill isn’t about money but about preventing fraudulent “double dipping” (again catchy words, no facts).
But that’s not all. Another unnecessary caveat in the bill allows defendants in a civil case to postpone proceedings if the plaintiff has not filed a claim against an asbestos trust. This means that most people who go to the trouble of fighting in court while they are fighting for their lives will simply never see any compensation. They will die without knowing if their work, and their subsequent fight, provided their families with any security … yet another hurdle for the common man who dares to take on a billion dollar industry.
What is certain is this: HB 380, if passed, will prevent severely ill people from receiving the compensation they deserve for their anguish. That is, if you think appropriate compensation can EVER be ascribed to one’s life. Yet the bill, which passed by a 54-40 margin in late January, is expected to go before the Senate this spring and proponents are optimistic that the bill will become law.
We believe that Blessing’s bill is about the money. It is designed to keep asbestos victims in Ohio from getting just compensation while allowing Ohio’s lucrative asbestos industry to shirk responsibility.
HB 380 is not only an affront to the dignity of the hard-working men and women who suffer from asbestos exposure – it is also an affront to our civil justice system. We should not limit the civil rights of those who have already suffered so much.