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New requirement for asbestos lawsuits passes House

Residents of North Carolina who have been made ill due to asbestos exposure may be concerned to hear that a bill imposing additional requirements on victims suing for asbestos exposure has just passed the North Carolina House Judiciary Committee. This proposed legislation raises concerns for asbestos victims, who may have a more difficult time obtaining compensation if the bill becomes law.

As discussed in a previous post, asbestos trust funds allow companies that are responsible for victims' asbestos-related diseases to compensate asbestos exposure victims despite claiming bankruptcy. Asbestos exposure victims are then able to avoid lengthy litigation by filing a trust fund claim and receiving compensation from the trust's reserves based on the type of disease they have and the amount of money the trust is able to provide.

Senate Bill 470 would require those engaging in asbestos litigation to research the companies' bankruptcy trust funds, file claims through those funds and disclose the funds in their lawsuit. Compensation from the lawsuit could then be delayed pending completion of the trust fund process.

Proponents of the bill argue that the trust fund money is there for victims who do not know they have asbestos-related diseases yet and that these limited reserves should not be depleted by those who are already receiving compensation from the companies directly through litigation.

Opponents of the bill emphasize the lengthy delays in payouts which could literally be the difference between life and death for those with asbestos-related diseases. One representative gained support for her suggestion to remove a provision in the bill that proposed reducing litigation payouts based on the amount "reasonably expected" to be paid by the trust fund, a standard she argues is vague and unfair.

It remains to be seen how the North Carolina House will vote on the changes to the bill, and if the bill will pass the Senate. If the legislation does become law, it will affect everyone involved in asbestos litigation -- both those with asbestos-related diseases and the companies responsible.

Source: The News & Observer, "New requirements for asbestos victims who sue companies pass NC House panel," Colin Campbell, May 23, 2017

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