By Chip Hough
Not so long ago, the Texas court system was drowning in asbestos personal injury lawsuits, seriously threatening access to our courts, harming our business climate and posing a real obstacle for those who were truly harmed by asbestos and deserved their day in court.
Seven years ago Texas lawmakers took steps to rein in these burgeoning lawsuits by establishing medical criteria for filing asbestos and silica cases, giving priority to sick people and heading off the common practice of questionable mass filings of claims.
These smart, balanced and science-based reforms received bipartisan, unanimous support in both the Texas House and Texas Senate.
Unfortunately, greed and questionable practices of some trial lawyers necessitate further action on this issue. The House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence is looking at the issue during this year's legislative interim.
At Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), it's our hope that these lawmakers will fully consider the practical, financial and legal ramifications of "double dipping" and quickly move end these abusive lawsuits next session.
Two scoops is better than one for ice cream, but it's not something we should allow in our court system.
Double dipping in asbestos-related personal injury lawsuits is a practice that allows trial lawyers to double their recovery and lawyer fees by filing lawsuits in court, waiting until those suits are settled and then filing another claim against the asbestos compensation bankruptcy trusts. Simply put, double dipping allows personal injury lawyers to enrich themselves at the expense of asbestos victims.
By closing the asbestos loophole in Texas law, asbestos claimants themselves – individuals suffering from mesothelioma often with little time left to live –actually stand to gain the most. Such a change would allow these harmed individuals and their families access to compensation faster than the present system allows and stop the double payouts to plaintiff's lawyers looking to game the system.
The other change that must be made is to give judges the authority to dismiss dormant asbestos and silica cases pending in Texas courts, especially those cases that do not meet the medical criteria for trial.
This reform would protect the rights of pending plaintiffs while ensuring that invalid cases don't place an undue burden on businesses that would have to carry these dormant lawsuits as contingent liabilities on their financial filings. Further, judges already have this authority in allother types of lawsuits. They should have the same authority over asbestos cases.
Reforms to close the loopholes in asbestos and silica personal injury litigation would further strengthen the original reforms passed in 2005 and provide Texans with legitimate asbestos and silica claims better, faster access to the courts and to the compensation they deserve.
Sadly, we know well-funded personal injury trial lawyers – you've seen them fishing for clients with their mesothelioma ads on television – have fought and will continue to fight these smart reforms with all their might.
They managed to derail a similar reform effort last session. Greed is a great motivator, and mesothelioma lawsuits can be extremely lucrative. Let's hope state leaders take action to provide protection and swift compensation to those truly harmed as well as maintain the good health of our state's court system.
Chip Hough is president of Basic Industries, a Texas-based company that provides industrial and commercial maintenance and construction services. Hough is also a board member of the Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.