Senator Kyle Janek of Galveston joined with Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst at a press conference today to announce legislation that they say would curb the number of frivolous lawsuit claims in Texas. Since 1988, more asbestos lawsuits have been filed in Texas than in any other state. According to the Texas Asbestos Consumers Coalition (TACC), asbestos claims are the largest contributors to increases in tort costs in the nation. The TACC also says that many of these lawsuits are filed by individuals who may have been exposed to asbestos or silica, but are not actually sick. Janek and Dewhurst agreed that those lawsuits filed clog up court dockets and keep people who are afflicted with an asbestos-related illness from receiving their due compensation. "With a model tort reform bill for the nation, Texas is indeed a good news state," said Dewhurst, "Yet, when we see baseless claims for asbestos or silica illness that are flooding into our courtrooms, our work is not yet done."
Senate Bill 15, by Janek, would create a definable standard for who can and who cannot file an asbestos claim in a Texas courtroom. "We're trying to lay out solid, objective medical criteria, by which we can judge whether someone has been impaired," said Janek. His bill would also include provisions for those who have been exposed but are not yet sick. Under current law, once a person knows he or she has asbestos related symptoms, they have two years to file a lawsuit. Janek said that these people may not be truly afflicted, and could therefore receive a settlement far less than would be received had they exhibited a full-blown illness. SB 15 would eliminate the statute of limitations on filing asbestos or silica claims.
SB 15 would move people with asbestos-related illnesses to the front of the docket. Janek wanted to be clear that people who have these illnesses need not fear this legislation. "We want any person who has been hurt, physically impaired, by exposure to asbestos or silica, has nothing to worry about from this legislation, "said Janek, "We want to make sure the people who have been hurt, as defined by objective, medical criteria, will get their day in court." The bill would also prohibit medical insurance companies from dropping coverage for a client who has been exposed to asbestos.
Janek carried a similar bill last session. Janek and Dewhurst both said they were optimistic about passage this session, because SB 15 is improved over last session's version. Dewhurst stressed the importance of adopting meaningful, asbestos-lawsuit reform. "By passing Senate Bill 15, the Texas Legislature can do what's right for injured workers, and what's fair, at the end of the day, for our Texas employers," said Dewhurst.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, March 10, at 10:00 A.M.