May 4, 2017

Asbestos Trust Transparency Reform – It’s Working in Ohio; It Will Work in Pennsylvania

Four years ago, Ohio became the first state in the nation to reform its asbestos trust laws to prevent plaintiffs’ lawyers’ gaming the system by bringing transparency and fairness to the process of filing claims against the trusts.

When the legislation was first introduced, some wondered if the disclosure requirements necessary to ensure transparency might delay access to justice for the plaintiff.

Now, several years later, a new report, Watching it Work: The Impact of Ohio’s Asbestos Trust Transparency Law on Tort Litigation in the State, analyzes asbestos cases before and after the legislation was enacted and found “there is no systemic evidence that the trust transparency reforms enacted in Ohio have caused delays in case resolutions.”

The study examined actual cases that were pending in 2010, 2012, and 2014 in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, the Ohio court with the most asbestos cases.  These three years were chosen because H.B. 380 became effective in 2013.

Ohio’s law was hotly debated in the legislature for more than a year. The plaintiffs’ bar decried that the bill “could cause endless delays and deny living plaintiffs their opportunity to be heard in court.”

This argument caused a lot of drama and delay, but the bill passed and experience has shown that the plaintiffs’ bar’s argument proved hollow. By 2014, less than two years after the legislation became law, it “had become routine,” and resulted in “no appreciable delay in the prosecution of cases.”

These findings come at a time when asbestos trust transparency is a ripe issue across the country. Since the Ohio law, 11 other states have passed asbestos trust reform bills. The federal government has also taken action to reform the asbestos trust system with the passage out of the House of Representatives the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency (FACT) Act.

And just this year Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Mississippi enacted asbestos trust transparency laws.

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, and other states are now considering similar legislation.

As lawmakers across the nation consider asbestos trust reform, they will seek to fix the system that is being systematically gamed by plaintiffs’ lawyers, while at the same time keeping it fair for the genuine asbestos victims who should have access to the trusts. The Ohio experience shows that indeed, lawmakers can find a way to fix what’s broken while keeping what works. Pennsylvania and other states should look to Ohio’s model and dismiss the critics making false arguments to keep needed reforms from happening.

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