Sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, HB403 seeks to end a practice he referred to as "double-dipping," where plaintiffs in asbestos lawsuits can go to court and be awarded damages, then file claims against one of the dozens of trusts established by bankrupt companies to award damages to asbestos victims.
The two awards are not coordinated, Wilson said, and the result is that the trusts are being depleted by unscrupulous lawyers. Nationally there are about 60 such trusts holding nearly $37 billion.
"This bill is designed to ensure those who have asbestos exposure or had it in the past get the compensation they deserve," Wilson said.
Wilson's legislation is lifted from model language promoted by the business-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Phil Goldberg, representing the U.S. Chamber, said attorneys in other states have lied and withheld information from the courts, filed contradictory claims in the courts and the trusts and abused the system.
"[This bill] promotes honesty in litigation and allows a jury to be fully informed about the plaintiffs' exposure so they can properly apportion fault," Goldberg said.
Attorney Rick Nemeroff, who represents asbestos victims, said there is no evidence that Utah lawyers have gamed the system and called it "an out-of-state legislative attack on our system that works just fine."
The new disclosure requirements in the bill and the potential for defendants to delay proceedings means some victims may never benefit from the compensation for their illnesses.
Wilson said six states have passed similar legislation and a study in one of them — Ohio — found that the new requirements actually have made the compensation process faster.
The House Business and Labor Committee voted 7-3 to send Wilson's bill to the full House, even though the sponsor acknowledged more work may be needed to refine the bill. He agreed to discuss concerns with the interested parties.