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Eye On Boise

Idaho House panel rejects IACI-backed asbestos lawsuit bill

By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho House panel on Tuesday spiked legislation to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure after opponents argued the proposal would limit victims' ability to recover losses.

"I'm worried about those who will be coming after me. I know what they're facing, and it's not pretty," said Roy Bale, a former pipe fitter who filed for an asbestos claim two years ago after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer. "You're asking sick workers to give up time when these sick workers need your help."

The measure, backed by the influential Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, would have required people who file personal injury lawsuits for asbestos exposure to provide a sworn statement of every asbestos-related claim they have made or plan to make. The bill would have also allowed companies being sued to ask a judge to delay proceedings if they believed the injured person may be able to make a claim with one of dozens of asbestos trusts set up more than 20 years ago.

Asbestos, a building material linked with cancer and other health problems, has been the subject of lawsuits awarding billions of dollars in damages. As health concerns became clearer, and the number of lawsuits swelled, companies forced into bankruptcy because of asbestos litigation transferred their assets and liabilities to trusts established to pay current and future asbestos victims.

At least 100 companies have gone into bankruptcy at least in part from liabilities tied to asbestos, according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report. There are 60 asbestos trusts, with a total of about $37 billion in assets.

Supporters of the bill argued that more oversight is needed to prevent people from filing claims with multiple trusts, or fraudulent claims. Furthermore, trusts are in danger of being depleted if nothing's done.

"Asbestos presents unique circumstances to which there is presently a void in law," said Alex LaBeau, the business lobby's president. "That void is addressed in this bill. This is designed to level the playing field so juries can make informed decisions."

Nevertheless, the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee killed the bill on a voice vote after a nearly four-hour hearing.

The conservative pro-business group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council has pushed similar legislation over the years in several states. Just this year, similar proposals have already been rejected in Colorado, Indiana and Kansas, while a handful of other states are currently reviewing the proposals inside their Statehouses.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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