In 2021, the Missouri General Assembly continues its effort for tort reform related to asbestos civil actions. This year’s proposed legislation is similar to legislation introduced in the past and includes substantive and procedural requirements for lawsuits filed for damages related to asbestos exposure.
H.B. 363, sponsored by Representative David Gregory, requires a plaintiff to disclose claims he or she has made with qualified asbestos trust funds. The bill also addresses the admissibility of documents and information associated with a plaintiff’s trust claims. A plaintiff would be required to file a sworn statement identifying all claims available to him or her against an asbestos trust fund. In addition, information about a trust funds’ governance documents and claims could be admitted as evidence. This would allow defendants to present trust claim information as proof of alternative causation for a claimant’s alleged injuries. Defendants would also have the ability to move to stay a lawsuit when facts presented support the contention that additional trust claims are available to a plaintiff. Furthermore, courts would be explicitly allowed to dismiss claims if a claimant failed to comply with disclosure requirements. (The text of H.B. 363 can be read here.)
S.B. 331, introduced by Senator Eric Burlison, appears to target reducing the number of defendants named in an asbestos-related personal injury suit. (The text of S.B. 331 can be read here.) The bill states that within 30 days of filing a civil action for alleged injuries related to asbestos exposure, a claimant must file a form specifying the evidence that’s the basis for each claim against each defendant. The required disclosures include:
- the person’s name, address, date of birth, marital status, occupation, smoking history, current and past worksites, and employment history, as well as the identity of the person through whom claimant alleges asbestos exposure
- each asbestos-containing product to which the person was exposed and the location of said exposure
- the specific location and manner of alleged exposure
- the beginning and end dates of each exposure, the frequency and length of each exposure, and the proximity of the person to the asbestos-containing product
- the specific asbestos-related disease claimed to exist
- a certification that no prior asbestos actions have been made on the claimant’s behalf or, if the claimant has filed prior asbestos actions, information on the case name, case number, and court where the action was filed
- any supporting documentation related to the information required
S.B. 200, introduced by Senator Bill Eigel, seeks—with exceptions—to outlaw the manufacture, sale, or distribution of asbestos beginning August 28, 2023. (The text of S.B. 200 can be read here.) Like the other legislation discussed, S.B. 200 also includes procedural provisions that would impact the litigation of asbestos-related personal injury claims. This bill incorporates trust disclosure requirements and allows information related to trust claims submitted by a claimant to be introduced as evidence at trial.
Pros and Cons
Proponents of the proposed legislation state that similar laws passed in other states have made asbestos exposure-related litigation more efficient by making Trust claims more efficient. These proponents believe the legislation would facilitate communication between the Trust system and Missouri’s court system, and it would allow all evidence to be presented before both. Opponents argue that the legislation would impose an undue hardship on claimants. Specifically, it would require claimants to provide evidence of exposure at the time a petition is filed rather than being able to elicit it during the discovery process. Opponents also argue that the legislation would provide defendants more opportunities to delay resolving cases.