Currently in the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee is HB 380 which will reform and promote transparency in the legal process of work related asbestos claims.
HB 380 will, "enact sections 2307.951, 2307.952, 2307.953, and 2307.954 of the Revised Code to require claimants in asbestos tort actions to make certain disclosures pertaining to asbestos trust claims that have been submitted to asbestos trust entities for the purpose of compensating the claimant for asbestos exposure." (HB 380).
By Ralph King
Published: April 18, 2012
In earlier decades, some American workers were exposed to asbestos on the job. Many of them later suffered injury, illness and even death as a result of that exposure. Rightfully, large numbers of these people, many of whom are in Ohio, continue to seek compensation for their losses.
Because Ohio was a heavy manufacturing site in the past, our state has a high number of asbestos-related claims, and particularly so in Northeast Ohio.
The great majority of companies most responsible for asbestos injuries — primarily companies that mined or manufactured asbestos — have ceased operations, declared bankruptcy and established trusts to pay the current and future claims of asbestos-injured workers. These trusts are considered “personal injury settlement trusts.”
Since the first trust was approved in 1986 under federal bankruptcy law, 60 companies have created trusts controlling more than $36 billion to address their asbestos liabilities.
The asbestos trusts assume all of the bankrupt companies’ asbestos liabilities, which effectively removes those companies from the court system in Ohio and every other state where such activity exists.
The asbestos trusts are one way claimants can seek compensation for asbestos-related injury. A second way is through lawsuits — suing solvent Ohio companies still open for business. In most cases, these companies’ involvement with asbestos was marginal at best. However, that does not stop many individuals from suing these businesses, in addition to staking claims from the trusts.
Ohio has a serious problem with these two tracks of asbestos compensation. When it comes to asbestos-related lawsuits, an unfair legal practice is hurting Ohio employers. This is because asbestos claimants in civil court are not obligated to disclose if they plan to pursue awards from a bankruptcy trust.
Ohio businesses trying to accurately defend their actions in an asbestos lawsuit are at a disadvantage when they don’t have access to information filed in the trust case such as work history and medical information. The pursuit of this information by companies often results in delays and appeals that result in a slow process for claimants.
The dual compensation system of trusts and lawsuits for asbestos claims leads to possibly inconsistent claims between both systems. There are cases where asbestos claimants are presenting the trusts with one set of facts, while, as plaintiffs in court cases, filing entirely different information against solvent defendant companies.
For example, in the Ohio case of Kananian v. Lorillard Tobacco Company, a claimant told a trust he was exposed to its asbestos as a World War II shipyard worker. But in his court lawsuit, he said he just “passed through” the shipyard and later suffered asbestos injuries from smoking cigarettes that used asbestos filters.
To ensure fairness in Ohio’s asbestos litigation system, the Ohio Senate is considering legislation that would make the process more transparent for the individuals seeking damages, as well as Ohio employers. House Bill 380 would require claimants in civil cases to disclose information on claims that could be made against bankruptcy trusts. The legislation will ensure fairness and restore consistency.
Establishing predictability in the system is important to note because even though courts may place case management orders that require the disclosure of claims against trusts, the orders would apply only to that particular court. There is nothing preventing plaintiffs’ lawyers from avoiding such an order by filing an asbestos lawsuit in another county. The best solution is to create a uniform system that makes the process consistent for Ohio employers and the awards claimants receive more accurate and fair. House Bill 380 creates such a system.
House Bill 380 also would place no limits on the number of claims that an individual may pursue. It proposes no caps in compensation and would expedite the process by avoiding time consuming requests for discovery. Because of the proposed disclosure requirements, the potential for inconsistent information between trust and lawsuit claims is discouraged. This helps ensure resources will be available for future bankruptcy trust claims.
At a time when the state is working to attract investment and job creation in the manufacturing sectors, businesses need to know they will get a fair shake in Ohio courts when it comes to asbestos lawsuits. Ohio needs House Bill 380.
King is co-founder and coordinator of Cleveland Tea Party Patriots and state co-coordinator of Tea Party Patriots.
Please contact the below listed State Senators and ask them to support HB 380....
State Senator Gayle Manning (District 13)
Phone: (614) 644-7613
Email: Click Here
Phone: (614) 466-4823
Email: Click Here
State Senator Scott Oelslager (District 29)
Phone: (614) 466-0626
Email: Click Here
To keep track of the status and results of your calls, please click here to fill out the HB 380 Contact Form to record the response of your call(s) to the above State Senator's offices.