WMC Praises Senate for Passing Asbestos Trust Transparency Bill

Reform Protects Victims from Double-Dipping Lawyers

MADISON – The state’s chamber of commerce (WMC) Wednesday praised state Senators who supported asbestos trust transparency reform that protects funds intended for victims and clamps down on double-dipping personal injury lawyers.

On Wednesday, the State Senate voted 17-16 to approve asbestos trust transparency reform (AB 19). The bill requires greater openness in lawsuits involving claims of harm caused by asbestos by requiring personal injury lawyer clients to reveal if they have additional claims pending against the massive asbestos trust funds established by bankrupt companies. Those trust funds have assets approaching $30 billion.

“Senators who voted yes on this needed reform have made our legal system more transparent and protected the trust funds intended to help victims,” said Scott Manley, WMC vice president of government relations. “They stood up to the personal injury lawyers who have been double-dipping by filing lawsuits against the asbestos trust funds, and then also suing individual existing businesses. They showed tremendous courage today to stand up for what is right, and reject the misguided sound bite politics of those who want to continue to enrich trial lawyers.”

The bill now returns to the Assembly for final approval. AB 19 previously passed the Assembly and the amended bill is expected to be approved swiftly and sent to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.

Key provisions of the asbestos trust transparency reform are:

  • Requires asbestos plaintiffs to disclose any and all claims that they have filed or will file with asbestos trust funds, along with all of the documents and information that support the trust claims.
  • Requires judges to admit trust claims and supporting materials into evidence at trial; prohibits plaintiffs from spuriously alleging that trust claims and their supporting documents are privileged.
  • Provides defendants with a powerful tool to ensure that plaintiffs file and disclose all possible claims with asbestos trusts. AB 19 authorizes defendants to identify trust claims that the plaintiff could and should file. If a judge agrees, the case is stayed until that claim is filed and disclosed.

“Our legal climate in Wisconsin is improving and this is the latest in a series of major reforms,” Manley said. “We’ve capped punitive damage awards, and medical malpractice awards and now we have shined the light of day on the double-dipping personal injury lawyers who prey on existing businesses while their clients have other lawsuits pending against the asbestos trust funds.”

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