Asbestos Victims Fight Bill Delaying Compensation
This week, asbestos victims fight bill delaying compensation by pleading the House Business and Labor Committee of Salt Lake City to reject a bill that would deny their ability to collect compensation.
“It’s only a matter of time before this disease takes my life, which is now measured in days and weeks rather than in months and rather than in years,” stated Thomas Florence, 71, who worked for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. “If this bill passes, it will stop my case and delay my case for no good reason. And mostly make it that I don’t see my day in court.”
The bill, HB403, titled the Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act, requires plaintiffs to fully disclose their asbestos exposure to the extent that no case is allowed to proceed until exactly six months after plaintiffs have made their disclosures.
Larry Boynton, one of the three men testifying against the bill, said it took doctors six months to diagnose his wife. After learning she had mesothelioma Feb. 9., she died Feb. 27.
“Time is a commodity that asbestos victims have very little of,” stated Boynton. “Utah should help suffering, not create unnecessary hurdles.”
Since the Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act has been introduced, six states have adopted similar legislation to address of problem. The problem apparently, is that lawyers are “double dipping,” suppressing evidence and limiting coordination and transparency that can result in potential fraud.
The committee has voted 7-3 in favor of advancing legislation, but House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson agreed to communicate with the disputing parties in hopes of resolving differences before the bill is passed.
Phil Goldberg, attorney for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, asserts the bill forces honesty during litigation. Goldberg believes creative lawyers have created unique ways of “gaming” the system.
“This does not in any way affect someone’s right to have their day in court,” said Goldberg.
Rick Nemeroff, a Park City attorney representing Peterson and Florence, said the bill is a “solution in search of a problem.” He believes the Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act is an out-of-state legislative attack that works fine in Utah’s legal system.
“Double-dipping doesn’t exist. I’m offended that I’m being accused of gaming the system,” Nemeroff said. “There is no fraud. There is no crisis.”
Wilson disagreed, stating it is indeed a problem, and states around the country are collectively passing legislation in order to deal with it, that is, taking a substantial amount of compensation from already very well-funded asbestos trusts exceeding $36.8 billion in assets. In addition to suing in court, plaintiffs will file, on average 18-20 trusts.
“Time limits would stop the legal process and put an unfair burden on the plaintiffs,” Nemeroff said.
William Dale Peterson, 70, is exemplative of the nearly 15,000 people who are killed from mesothelioma per year in the United States. He, among many others, is not trying to “game” the system for his personal benefit. Peterson is trying to receive compensation, most likely for his surviving family, before he passes away from this disease.
Peterson worked for Utah Power and Light for 32 years, saying the makers of the asbestos based products knowingly exposed and profited for years without informing workers that they were being exposed to asbestos.