In 2020, the Missouri General Assembly continued its efforts toward tort reform related to asbestos trust claim transparency related to civil litigation. As explained below, S.B. 575 sought to make clear from the beginning of a lawsuit the scope and extent of asbestos trust fund (“Trust”) claims available to a plaintiff and to allow evidence related to such claims to be admissible at trial.
S.B. 575, sponsored by Senator Bill Eigel (St. Charles County), would have imposed substantive and procedural requirements for lawsuits filed for damages related to asbestos exposure. The Bill specified requirements on plaintiffs related to the disclosure of claims he or she has made with qualified asbestos trust funds and the admissibility of documents and information associated with a plaintiff’s Trust claims. Pursuant to the Bill, plaintiffs would have been required to file claims with all available Trusts and provide proof of such claims to the court within 45 days of filing a lawsuit. Plaintiffs would also have been required to supplement information regarding additional Trust claims made by and/or available to him or her throughout the course of the litigation. The proposed bill indicated that defendants would have been entitled to a setoff commensurate with the value of actual and prospective Trust claims.
Further, under the Bill, Trust claim materials and Trust governance documents would have been admissible into evidence. In effect, defendants would have been able to introduce Trust materials as evidence of alternative exposures attributable to bankrupt entities that would be joint tortfeasors were it not for their bankruptcy status. Under the terms of the proposed bill, the jury would also have been required to consider and allocate fault against bankrupt entities.
Despite the heavy Republican majority in the Missouri legislature, Democrats were able to prevent the passage of S.B. 575 by staging a 20-hour filibuster. Republicans ultimately chose to back proposed legislation that modified Missouri law on the issue of punitive damages. S.B. 575 was one of many proposed bills introduced by the Missouri legislature attempting to reform the use of Trust claim information in asbestos-related civil litigation. We’re likely to see similar legislation presented again next year.