Texas House passes asbestos legislation
Knight Ridder Tribune Business News
May 11, 2005
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May 11--AUSTIN -- It will curb a wave of asbestos-related lawsuits but
allow the truly sick to still seek redress, said proponents of a measure
approved unanimously and without debate by the House late Tuesday.
"The effects of this legislation are going to be felt not just in
Texas but all over the nation," said Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, the bill's
Nixon and other supporters say under the current system, too many
people who have been exposed to asbestos or silica but who aren't ill are filing
lawsuits at the expense of the truly sick.
The bill, which the Senate also passed unanimously two weeks ago, is a
delicate compromise forged by lawyers and business groups, said Nixon and
the Senate bill's author, Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who also is a practicing
The easy approval was a marked difference from debate on the issue two
years ago, which got so contentious that Gov. Rick Perry at one point hopped
over a Senate railing to prod members on it.
Nixon admitted he was surprised by the lack of debate, calling it
proof that "a lot of people put in a lot of work."
"This is historic," said Dick Weekley, chairman of Texans for Lawsuit
Reform, adding that it could provide a model for Congress.
The bill requires those exposed to asbestos meet requirements, such as
passing a chest X-ray or pulmonary function test, before they could sue,
while providing a loophole for "extraordinary" cases.
Those with pending lawsuits who don't meet the criteria would see
their suits put on hold until they become sick enough to proceed. Suits filed
after September 2005 could be automatically dismissed, though they could be filed
Janek's measure removes the current statute of limitations -- a key
provision to obtaining support from plaintiffs' lawyers. People who have
been exposed but are not yet sick will not have to rush to sue as they are doing
now, Janek said, but could wait until they become truly ill.
Opponents have questioned imposing medical criteria on someone who is
already sick and on a disease in which not everyone is affected in the same
way. Asbestos-related diseases can lie latent for 40 years.
Texas ranks fifth in the nation for asbestos-related deaths and more
lawsuits have been filed here than any other state.
Brian Blevins, a Beaumont attorney who worked on the bill for the
Texas Trial Lawyers Association, called it the "best worst-case scenario for our
Credit: San Antonio Express-News
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