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House Votes For Transparency In Filing Of Asbestos Exposure Claims

February 13, 2018

The House voted 58-51 Tuesday to pass legislation requiring that attorneys filing suit on behalf of asbestos exposure victims tell the court about all the claims they intend to make against asbestos bankruptcy trust funds.

HB 5456, sponsored by Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), would require plaintiffs and lawyers to attest that all potential claims against asbestos trusts have been investigated, completed and filed when filing a lawsuit. 

“It is a transparency bill, a fairness bill,” Wentworth said. “If you are going to file a bankruptcy trust claim and litigate, you need to make sure you give the jury the proper information ahead of time so they can make an informed decision on where to appropriate blame in the case of your litigation.” 

Those who have been diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure can file claims two ways, suing or filing claims with one or more of 60 bankruptcy trusts that were set up in the ’70s when more than 110 companies went out of business because of asbestos hazards. 

Wentworth said it is not a problem when victims make multiple claims, but the jury should know all the claims being made before making a decision in a case. 

Critics claimed the bill will slow claims down, and once a victim has been diagnosed they have very limited time. They life expectancy of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is one year. 

“Once detected, it is a death sentence,” Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) said during the floor debate Tuesday, “and his loved ones are force to watch a year-long death sentence.” 

Slowing the process would mean victims don’t get to see an award before their death. Rep. Christine Greig (D-Northville) called the bill “disgusting” and “vulturous.” 

Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) called it “shameful.” 

Rep. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said the bill was intended to stop “double dipping” but no one has shown that double dipping has been a problem in Michigan. 

Wentworth argued against the idea the bill would slow claims down. 

“I think that is completely inaccurate,” he said. “Twelve other states have adopted legislation that is similar. They have seen no delay. Ohio is the oldest in the country and they’ve never had any repeal efforts. It has never been shown to extend the process out. I would argue the exact opposite, that this is going to speed up claims.” 

Rep. James Lower (R-Cedar Lake) said he was disappointed the bill was being politicized. He said if lawmakers do not protect the trust funds, those funds could be depleted and therefore unavailable for future victims of asbestos exposure. 

All Democrats voted against HB 5456. Five Republicans joined them in dissent including Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe), Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Twp.) and Jeff Yaroch (R-Richmond). 

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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