The asbestos bar targets Austin

The SE Texas Record Apr. 4, 2009, 3:51am

It seems reasonable that someone who sues claiming sickness from asbestos should, in fact, be sick from asbestos.

Not to some members of the Texas Legislature, now actively pushing a bill that would eliminate evidence standards in asbestos lawsuits filed in our state. If the measure passes, asbestos fraudsters from across the country would have a new incentive to file their lawsuits in our courts.

Right now, thanks to a common sense 2007 ruling by the State Supreme Court, the shadiest asbestos operatives are taking their dubious cases elsewhere.

In Borg-Warner v. Flores, the High Court ruled that a plaintiff couldn't blame a company for causing his asbestos sickness without actual evidence. The plaintiff, life-long smoker and auto mechanic Arturo Flores, thought he used Borg-Warner brake pads in his job more than 30 years ago.

He developed lung problems and blamed it on inhaling asbestos dust from the pads. But he had no proof. He wasn't even sure the pads were Borg-Warner's. And doctors said his lung X-rays didn't show asbestos disease, but rather a general lung malady with more than 100 documented causes--including cigarettes.

In spite of that testimony a South Texas jury ruled that the company had to pay Flores $169,000 in damages.

In Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson's opinion overturning the verdict, he stated the obvious, "In asbestos cases...we must determine whether the asbestos in the defendant's product was a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff's injuries."

It's an important point. Almost anyone living in a big city has been exposed to some asbestos dust at one point or another. But that exposure has made only a handful of people sick.

All asbestos exposure doesn't cause sickness. And all sickness isn't caused by asbestos exposure, despite what some asbestos lawyers would like us to believe.

Court proceedings should be centered on credible evidence. Our legislature shouldn't try to rig the system, turning trials into personality-driven popularity contests.

Some members of the trial bar would love it. The rest of us should be horrified at the prospect.

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