Missouri lawmakers are currently considering a troubling piece of legislation that would adversely affect the rights of asbestos victims.
The bill, HB274, is the latest attempt by asbestos wrongdoers to use their political influence in order to delay or deny justice for the too many Missourians who are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and die every year.
Sponsored by Rep. Alex Riley (R-Springfield), the bill would unnecessarily place a significant burden on asbestos victims, requiring them to provide an enormous amount of detailed information up front before a judge could even allow them to obtain a trial date and have their voice heard. The bill would additionally turn confidential negotiations into presumptive proof of exposure that would fail to meet the standards for causation in Missouri. As a final insult to injured plaintiffs, when coupled with current laws in Missouri, the proposed legislation would end up giving a windfall to companies that poisoned Missourians with asbestos by forcing individuals to accept settlements for pennies on the dollar and then giving asbestos companies full credit for settlements that won’t ever be paid in full to plaintiffs.
Not only does this proposed tactic delay the process of bringing a defendant to justice, but it takes away valuable time from asbestos victims, especially those diagnosed with mesothelioma, who often pass away within months of their diagnosis.
“The Missouri constitution guarantees residents the right to a civil jury trial and this proposed bill tramples on those guaranteed rights,” said Member Ben Schmickle. “There are mechanisms in place in the civil justice system to ensure fairness for both parties and this bill is nothing less than a bailout for multinational companies that sold their asbestos-laden products here, poisoned Missourians, and now want to walk away with a pat on the back and a handshake from Missouri Republicans.”
SWMW Law Member Lauren Williams testified in opposition of the bill before the Missouri House General Laws Committee in Jefferson City March 21 on behalf of the firm’s clients.
“The overarching goal of this bill is to delay our clients from having their voice heard in court,” Williams said. “It unfairly shifts the legal burden to asbestos victims, who are already dealing with complicated end-of-life decisions and planning, on top of ongoing medical appointments and treatment. Asbestos wrongdoers and proponents of this bill have motive to delay the judicial process given the incurable nature and shortened life expectancy associated with asbestos diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestos.”
The proposed bill would be especially harmful to U.S. veterans and first responders, as they are disproportionately affected by asbestos-related diseases. Approximately 30 percent of all Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos in the military.
“Our clients trust us to speak on their behalf, protect their interests, and give them a voice not only in the judicial system, but also in the legislative arena, where their rights are directly affected,” Williams continued. “We take that responsibility seriously and will continue to actively oppose any legislation that puts their right to justice in jeopardy.”