BATON ROUGE – A Louisiana lawsuit abuse watchdog group has thrown its support behind a struggling state House bill that would provide transparency in asbestos litigation, similar to a measure signed into law earlier this month in Utah.
"Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) fully supports Utah's Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act," LLAW Executive Director Melissa Landry said in an email interview with the Louisiana Record. "We hope its passage in the Beehive state will encourage our own lawmakers to move similar common sense legislation in Louisiana."
Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch is a non-partisan, non-profit, citizen watchdog group that focuses on civil justice issues in the state. It is closely watching HB 536, introduced into Louisiana's House of Representatives by Rep. Raymond E. Garofalo, Jr. (R-Dist.103) in early March. The bill is currently in the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.
Louisiana HB 536 is similar to Utah's Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act, signed by the governor in that state earlier this month. The Utah law aims to stop plaintiff attorneys from "double dipping," seeking compensation from multiple asbestos trusts while fighting a lawsuit on behalf of one individual. The Utah law is written to ensure companies and bankruptcy trusts pay a fair share of claimant recoveries, and also shields companies from wrongful lawsuits.
Utah is the latest state in the U.S. to pass asbestos litigation transparency legislation. Other states that already have done so include Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"There is ample evidence that many personal injury law firms specializing in asbestos litigation are gaming the current system, which operates with very little oversight," Landry said. "By submitting false or exaggerated claims, making multiple claims, and testifying to different exposure facts in different cases, opportunistic personal injury lawyers are abusing asbestos trusts and the traditional tort system to maximize their own profits. That’s wrong. Not only does it undermine the integrity of the legal system, it takes money away from future deserving victims, and we should not allow it to continue."
Landry described Louisiana HB 536 as a simple bill that would require plaintiffs to disclose basic information about any other asbestos claims they may have.
"This simple act of disclosure would help shine a light on asbestos bankruptcy trusts and discourage the kind of abuse that is currently rampant throughout the system," Landry said.
Unfortunately, Landry said, her organization is not optimistic that HB 536, which has been in committee awaiting action since mid-March, will pass.
"HB 536 is a good bill that’s desperately needed in Louisiana," she said. "Until we have a fair and transparent system that guards against fraud and protects asbestos assets for legitimate victims, we will continue to support these and other similar efforts at the state and federal level."
Asbestos exposure is especially high in Louisiana in part because of its ties to the oil industry, according to the The Mesothelioma Center. Asbestos was a favored material for insulating pipelines in the state's oil refineries in Lake Charles, Princeton and Shreveport. Asbestos was attractive to the oil industry because of its heat resistance. This is important because oil is highly flammable, and the refining process includes periods of high pressure and temperature. Asbestos was used by the oil industry in Louisiana to insulate reactors, tanks, furnaces and pumps.