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California Proposes Legislation Affecting Asbestos Tort Claims

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

Proposed California Assembly Bill No. 597, the Asbestos Tort Claim Trust Transparency Act, has been introduced and sponsored by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova). If the legislation passes, asbestos plaintiffs will need to disclose all bankruptcy claim documents in asbestos tort actions.

This would include “any communications between the plaintiff and an asbestos trust and all proof of claims forms and supplementary or supporting materials submitted to or required by an asbestos trust.” Defendants would not be required to seek discovery of relevant materials regarding any claim made by plaintiffs to an asbestos trust. These materials could be admissible evidence for defendants to prove alternate causation or to apportion fault for plaintiffs’ suffering.

Attorney-claim privilege has been used in the past to protect the confidentiality of these materials, but with this bill, plaintiffs can no longer have it as an objection to block discovery, so defendants will get access regardless.

“This proposal is designed with one goal in mind – run out the clock on asbestos victims so they die before their cases even make it to court,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund’s Vice President for Strategic Campaigns and Director of the Group’s Asbestos Nation Campaign, Alex Formuzis. “California sees more deaths from mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease than any other state, and if this proposal becomes law, many current and future victims and their families will see justice denied. They will be forced to jump over legal hurdles put in place by the asbestos industry itself.”

Asbestos Nation is the EWG Action Fund campaign to create public awareness of the hazards and health risks of asbestos that believes the legislation results in legal barriers purposefully created to make compensation for victims much longer and much more difficult. If this bill passes, the family of any victim who dies before his or her court date would be denied fair compensation.

The bill started at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that receives funding from many major organizations, including Koch Industries, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Rifle Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help influence legislation. The bill is currently supported by the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC), an association that’s tied to corporations relying on asbestos.

The 2015 Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act was also introduced at the federal level based on an ALEC model bill. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) sponsored the FACT Act and coincidentally, his single biggest campaign donor of $10,000 during the last election cycle was Koch Industries.

The Consumer Attorneys of California, California Labor Federation, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, Sacramento Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, California Professional Firefighters, State Teamsters and Environmental Working Group, and the National Lawyers Guild Labor & Employment Committee have all filed oppositions to the new bill.