Small Business Calls for Transparency in Asbestos Lawsuits

Date: January 31, 2018

Related Content: News Legal Michigan

Juries should be made aware of other lawsuits to avoid “double-dipping” by plaintiffs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Charlie Owens, Michigan State Director, [email protected] Follow Charlie on Twitter @OwensNFIB

LANSING, Mich., Jan. 31, 2018—The state’s leading small-business organization, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), testified today at a hearing of the House Competitiveness Committee in support of legislation that would end the practice of “double-dipping” by plaintiff’s attorneys in asbestos lawsuits.

House Bill 5456, introduced by Rep. Jason Wentworth, would change the way that claims for injury due to asbestos exposure are litigated in Michigan courts by requiring plaintiff’s attorneys to disclose all other litigation related to the case.

“The problem that exists currently in our state courts is that plaintiffs will pursue civil litigation in the state court, while also intending to seek damages in federal court for relief from one or more of the asbestos trust funds established for this purpose,” said NFIB State Director Charlie Owens. “They do so without disclosing to the court the details of the federal action thus leading juries to believe that the defendants named in the state action are the only responsible parties.

Owens said that the filing of a claim with the federal trust fund means that the plaintiff is alleging that the company that created the trust is at least partly responsible for their client’s condition. Without this information regarding the plaintiff’s exposures to asbestos, and admissions that asbestos products from a trust fund company caused the plaintiff’s disease, the court cannot properly apportion liability, if any, among the named defendants in the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff’s attorneys name anyone and everyone they can find as defendants in the state action in hopes of securing settlements, then after an award is made, they go on to file another lawsuit at the federal level and claim the same damages,” said Owens. “Because the big companies are bankrupt and cannot be sued under the terms of the federal settlement trust agreements, plaintiff’s attorneys target small businesses in state court that cannot afford to defend themselves and try to wring a settlement out of them.”

According to Owens’ testimony, when the plaintiffs’ bar is required to disclose information that provides specific documentation of exposure, the number of lawsuits targeted at other parties at the state level declines significantly because it is more difficult to force settlements on them. “When the state of Georgia added new filing requirements for asbestos plaintiffs requiring specific documentation of exposure, one judge reported that his caseload dropped from 1,200 to only a dozen in one year,” said Owens.

The legislation is scheduled for another committee hearing next week.

For more information about NFIB, please visit www.nfib.com.

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Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the National Federation of Independent Business is the Voice of Small Business, taking the message from Main Street to the halls of Congress and all 50 state legislatures. NFIB annually surveys its members on state and federal issues vital to their survival as America’s economic engine and biggest creator of jobs. NFIB’s educational mission is to remind policymakers that small businesses are not smaller versions of bigger businesses; they have very different challenges in remaining open.

National Federation of Independent Business/Michigan
115 West Allegan St.
Lansing, MI 48933
517-485-3409
www.nfib.com/michigan
Twitter: @NFIB_MI

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