Does California Need Asbestos Reform?
From 1999 to 2013, more Californians died from asbestos-related ailments than any other state, with 21,338 asbestos-related deaths. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, mesothelioma is a common outcome, even if the symptoms take decades to materialize. Unsurprisingly, then, California also had the highest number of mesothelioma-related cancer deaths from 2001 to 2010.
With dire statistics like these, it is arguable that California should be leading the nation with bold asbestos reform initiatives. However, eight other states have passed legislation concerning Asbestos Trust Transparency, and the question is whether California should do the same.
What Is Asbestos Trust Transparency?
To understand why some states are pursuing asbestos trust transparency, one must first understand how asbestos and mesothelioma victims are compensated after asbestos exposure caused their illness.
Workers who are exposed to asbestos and become sick have two separate pathways to legal compensation. The first route is to use the state court system to sue the company or companies who are responsible for their asbestos exposure and subsequent sickness. The problem with taking this route is that many asbestos companies have been sued until they went bankrupt after many asbestos exposure lawsuits.
After all, hundreds of thousands of individuals have filed legal claims for damage resulting from asbestos exposure. And, since plaintiffs tend to file claims against multiple defendants, millions of claims have been filed against asbestos defendants.
The reality that plenty of asbestos defendants would face bankruptcy led to the creation of a Federal Bankruptcy trust for asbestos. Functionally, this simply means that companies that went bankrupt would put their remaining funds into a trust meant to cover asbestos payouts for future asbestos victims.
These two paths exists concurrently to guarantee that those who are harmed by asbestos can receive compensation for their injuries. Unfortunately, some unethical lawyers have gamed the system under this two pathway model.
Some Asbestos Lawsuits May Attempt to “Game” The System
What some quasi-unethical lawyers have been known to game the asbestos lawsuit system in the following way. First, the lawyer sues a completely solvent (non-bankrupt) company to receive a full recovery after trial or settlement. After this step is achieved for the client, the lawyer then files a claim before the Federal Bankruptcy trust for their client’s same exact harms.
In effect, the lawyer essentially double dips to receive compensation from both pathways. This can be construed as unethical lawyering since the lawyer can recover from multiple defendants while doubling their fees, which necessarily depletes valuable trust resources for future victims who will need trust resources to recover deserved compensation for asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma.
That said, there are times when double dipping in this would not be unethical. For example, if an asbestos victim was exposed to multiple brands of asbestos from both solvent and now bankrupt companies, a good lawyer would make sure their client receives compensation from both the solvent company responsible as well as compensation from the trust for harms caused by a bankrupt company.
Even so, this complex issue is sure to be debated by California lawmakers in the years ahead, particularly after the California Supreme Court recently ruled employers are now responsible for “take home” asbestos exposure. “Take home” exposure refers to workers who are directly exposed to asbestos and take the toxin home, exposing other household members to asbestos and causing them to become ill.
The pool of victims harmed by asbestos only continues to grow, but the resources of the Federal Bankruptcy trust are not endless. For this reason, some individuals believe asbestos reform is needed to guarantee asbestos victims and defendants alike are protected from bad actors. Gaming the system may by draining funds from the trust may result in future victims not getting the compensation they deserve.
Properly structured reform, may result more coverage for more victims. In so doing, the double dipping loophole could be closed, guaranteeing future victims will have the funds they need in the trust instead of having the trust depleted to the point it deprives future victims of deserved compensation.
Whether California adopts asbestos reform or not, these issues underscore the need for victims to find a trusted asbestos lawyer who will fight for a victim’s right to receive the maximum amount of deserved compensation while also preserving the trust funds for future victims.
Contact The Ledger Law Firm for a free legal consultation with our trusted California asbestos and mesothelioma lawyers who will fight for your right to the compensation you deserve from both solvent and bankrupt California companies.