Iowa Bill to Restrict Asbestos Liability Lawsuits Passes State Senate

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

Last week, the Iowa State Senate passed a bill that severely restricts asbestos liability lawsuits. Known as Senate File 376, the bill is described by supporters as an attempt to eliminate “double-dipping” by plaintiffs who have already received an average of $600,000 in compensation from liability claims.

It passed 27-22 in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate, supported by votes from most Republicans. All Democrats in the Iowa Senate opposed the bill, many expressing outrage and a belief that the bill will hurt sick and dying individuals in the state.

According to Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, the bill creates “trap doors” causing plaintiffs to have more problems recovering damages in mesothelioma lawsuits. “There is a clear right and a clear wrong on this one, folks, and this vote will matter,” he said.

“Let’s not do something that could have real harm for real Iowans who are suffering a horrible disease,” said Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. “I don’t think that the majority party wants to do that.”

The bill is very similar to past legislation written by a national conservative organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The council is comprised of state legislators and private-sector interests.

Bill Floor Manager Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, says, “This is not a Koch brothers’ bill.” Charles and David Koch are well-off businessmen who have funded several conservative organizations, including ALEC. Zaun claims he’s had no conversations with the ALEC.

“ALEC wants to make it harder for injured workers and their families to get compensation,” said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids. She wants Republicans to “drop the charade” and say they’re supporting ALEC. On Tuesday, the council sponsored a breakfast reception for lawmakers in Des Moines.

“Money in the trust funds needs to be available for future victims,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock. Dix is worried about “greedy trial lawyers whose goal is to get rich at the expense of future asbestos victims.”

According to Zaun, most claimants file 20 asbestos lawsuits. This bill will require plaintiffs to disclose certain information, such as the disposition of each asbestos trust claim, within 90 days of filing. In that respect, it is very similar to the federal legislation known as the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency (FACT) Act currently being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Other language in the bill relates to the defendant identifying additional or alternative asbestos trust funds, the plaintiff exposing all trust claims, the legal and discovery and use of materials for court, the valuation of claims, and failure to comply with disclosure requirements.

Zaun thinks if multiple case filings aren’t addressed, mesothelioma asbestos trust fund money will run out.