By: Scott Hobson
The Ohio House has passed HB 380 which would require plaintiffs in asbestos litigation to disclose any additional claims they have pending against asbestos trusts. Said Ohio state representative Lou Blessing, “openness in legal proceedings is good and helps ensure that justice is fairly administered.”
We couldn’t agree more. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office highlighted the secretive nature of asbestos trusts. The report studied 52 of the 60 asbestos trusts in existence and found that they have paid out approximately 3.3 million claims totaling $17.5 billion. Yet amazingly, only one trust publically disclosed the how much and to whom payments were made.
Equally troubling is the connection between asbestos law firms and the trusts they seek recovery from. A 2010 report by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice uncovered several such connections that should raise suspicion – demonstrating that the plaintiffs’ law firms effectively control the trusts through their management of the Trust Advisory Committees. For example, the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg has influence over 42% of the asbestos trusts reviewed in the study, serving as Trust Advisory Committee members.
Ohio’s legislation is a model of transparency and fairness. New York leaders should take note and advance similar measures to prevent unfair duplicative recoveries and shed light on firms which routinely abuse the system. Otherwise, financial incentives will continue to invite rampant abuse of the system and will hasten the depletion of funds intended for the truly sick.