St. Louis’ courts have long been one of the most popular asbestos jurisdictions for plaintiff’s lawyers. In 2016, for example, St. Louis saw the fourth-most asbestos lawsuits in the country.
Asbestos litigation has long been marred by fraud, abuse, and scandal. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have exploited the darkness and secrecy in the system to cash in, while depleting the resources leftover for future victims.
Last Thursday, though, the Missouri House passed a bill that would finally cast sunlight upon the state’s asbestos litigation machine.
The bill, passed 96-48, would introduce transparency requirements into the system without causing delays in case resolution. In fact, H.B. 1645 will let all victims have their day in court while also preserving resources for future claimants. Specifically, the bill would require plaintiff’s lawyers suing solvent companies to disclose if they are also seeking compensation for the same injury from a bankruptcy trust. This would ensure that those who are truly injured receive fair compensation, both now and in the future.
Should H.B. 1645 become law, Missouri will join 12 other states who have provided transparency to asbestos litigation.
Missouri’s system has needed reform for quite some time. Not only was St. Louis the fourth-most popular jurisdiction for lawsuit filings in 2016, but it also averaged the fifth-most defendants per lawsuit. The average asbestos complaint in St. Louis consisted of 79 defendants in 2016 (this was 13 defendants higher than the national average).
All these lawsuits and defendants have led to multi-million dollar verdicts that far exceed those seen elsewhere. Take, for example, one $11.5 million verdict that included $10 million in punitive damages.
Massive awards like this, especially when punitive damages are involved, deplete trust fund resources available for future claimants. H.B. 1645 will ensure that victims will be fairly compensated today, while preserving resources for claims tomorrow.
This is commonsense legislation that will bring fairness and balance back to Missouri’s courts, for everyone involved in the present and in the future. The Senate should pick up this bill immediately and send it to the governor as soon as possible.