Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore Lou Blessing (R-Cincinnati) has announced that the Ohio House of Representatives today passed House Bill 380, legislation designed to bring transparency and accountability to asbestos-related litigation.
According to an overview of asbestos bankruptcy trusts released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there were 60 asbestos bankruptcy trusts with assets of more than $36 billion as of 2011. These trusts are a major source of funding for asbestos claimants and exist entirely outside the tort system. There is no limit to the number of trusts against which a claimant may file, nor is there a monetary cap on the amount a claimant may recover in the aggregate from the trusts.
In Ohio, there is no statewide requirement that asbestos claimants disclose in court if they are also pursuing recovery from the bankruptcy trusts. House Bill 380 addresses this issue by improving disclosure and transparency in the asbestos litigation process by requiring claimants seeking recovery from defendants in Ohio’s courts to disclose and pursue viable claims against the bankruptcy trusts. It is not designed to limit a claimant’s access to recovery from the trusts or defendants, nor does it limit a claimant’s ability to be fully compensated for their injuries.
“House Bill 380 is based on the premise that openness in legal proceedings is good and helps ensure that justice is fairly administered for all parties,” said Representative Blessing, who sponsored the legislation. “Any instances of fraud have the potential to deprive future claimants of fair compensation by depleting the resources of defendants and trusts. It is important that we address this issue here in Ohio now because this is an issue that has become particularly rampant in our court system.”
Among other provisions, the bill:
• Requires a clamant to provide all parties in the action a sworn statement identifying all existing asbestos trust claims made by or on behalf of the claimant and all trust claims material pertaining to each such identified claim
• Permits a defendant in the action to file a motion for an order to stay in the proceedings if a defendant in good faith believes that the claimant has not submitted a legitimate claim to an asbestos bankruptcy trust
• Specifies that the claimant has the burden of proof by preponderance of the evidence of the allegations in the claimant’s response
• Permits the parties in the action to introduce at the trial any trust claims material to prove alternative causation for the claimed injury, death, or loss to prove a basis to allocate responsibility and to prove issues relevant to an adjudication of the asbestos claim
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber that was widely used in industrial products throughout much of the 20th century and is now known to be toxic. It has been linked to several diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.
House Bill 380 will now be sent to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.