By DAVID YATES
Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law two tort reform measures Tuesday, ending asbestos double dipping and lawsuits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs.
In February, state Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, introduced House Bill 1492, relating to consideration of asbestos or silica trust claims in actions asserting asbestos or silica injuries.
Texas tort reform groups, such as Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, campaigned the bill, frequently asking Texans to urge their legislators to support the measure and stop personal injury lawyers from “double-dipping.”
Double dipping in asbestos cases occurs when personal injury lawyers sue a company and claim its products harmed their clients while simultaneously filing claims with asbestos trusts blaming other products for the same exact harm.
The new law requires asbestos claimants to serve notices of their trust claims.
Additionally, if a claimant received compensation from a trust for an asbestos-related injury that also gave rise to a judgment against a defendant but the plaintiff failed to provide notice, the trial court can impose sanctions, including vacating the judgment.
Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, commended Texas for taking a meaningful step to improve its civil justice system by enacting a law to guard against double dip asbestos claims.
"This law will help ensure that the tort and asbestos trust systems work together fairly to compensate claimants while discouraging fraudulent claims. It will also help Texas manufacturing companies and protect jobs by ensuring that companies are not bankrupted by abusive claims," said Rickard in a June 17 statement.
“Texas joins a growing number of states including Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wisconsin that have enacted such laws to bring transparency to the asbestos compensation system."
Abbott also signed off on a court shopping reform, HB 1692, authored by Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas.
TALA has maintained that HB 1692 ensures Texas courts remain open to Lone Star residents and don’t become burdened with out-of-state lawsuits that have no connection to Texas.
The bill closes a loophole for lawsuits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs – a hole purportedly created last year when the Texas Supreme Court ruled a suit filed on the behalf of a Mexican national who died in an automobile collision in Mexico belonged in Texas.
The decision, In re: Ford Motor Company, required the high court to interpret the definition of “plaintiff” in the Texas-resident exception to the forum non conveniens statute – a court’s discretionary power to decline to exercise its jurisdiction where another court may more conveniently hear a case.
HB 1692 will amend the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code to read as follows: “In determining whether a case should be dismissed under this subchapter, the plaintiff’s choice of a forum in this state shall be given substantial deference, provided that the plaintiff is a legal resident of the state and the underlying litigation has a significant connection to this state.”
The new law will ultimately redefine the word “plaintiff” in Texas civil law, ensuring the term no longer includes:
– A counterclaimant, cross-claimant, or third-party plaintiff or a person who is assigned a cause of action for personal injury, or who accepts an appointment as a personal representative in a wrongful death action in bad faith for purposes of affecting in any way the application of this section;
– An intervenor, beneficiary, next friend, or other derivative party to the plaintiff’s claim; or
– A decedent’s estate, if the decedent was not a legal resident of this state at the time of death.
TALA is a non-profit, statewide grassroots coalition dedicated to educating the public about the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse, according to the organization’s website.
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