Bill to Rein in Frivolous Asbestos Lawsuits Heads to Governor’s Desk

A bill aimed at addressing asbestos litigation abuse and the practice of over-naming defendants in asbestos-related lawsuits is on its way to the governor’s desk. 

The state House on Monday voted 35-23 to advance SB 1157, legislation to curb a trial lawyer strategy of naming several parties in personal injury lawsuits related to asbestos exposure, even if those potential defendants’ connection to an injury was negligible.

“This is a commonsense bill,” said its sponsor Sen. Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke, during a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this session. “We have a problem in this particular area where over-naming in a lawsuit creates more liability.” 

Mark Behrens, who testified in the committee on behalf of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said asbestos litigation over the last several decades has devolved into an endless search for a solvent bystander. 

Behrens said the bill “simply requires the plaintiff to disclose upfront, the who, what, why, and where of their injury.” 

The legislation would accelerate the disclosure of information and make sure that innocent companies are not named erroneously or frivolously, which currently leads to a dismissal rate of more than 90% during the discovery period of the lawsuit. Of the companies dismissed from the suits, nearly all of them were not found to have any connection to the damages or injuries claimed by the plaintiff. 

The erroneously identified companies, however, must cover without reimbursement the cost of defense counsel during the early stages of litigation before they are dismissed. 

In one example cited by Behrens, Marine One, a steel company named in more than 182,000 different personal injury asbestos suits, was sued in cases they never should have been named in. While their product was never found to have harmed people, they were forced to file for bankruptcy due to the cost of defense attorneys. 

Sen. Leach noted that Arizona’s legal environment is important to its overall economic development prospects. 

“I am proud to sponsor legislation that will promote a more attractive legal environment for current and prospective businesses,” Leach said. “Senseless lawsuits only serve to hurt job creators, who pay the price by spending more time and money on defending themselves than on running their business. SB 1157 will ensure Arizona continues to do what it does better than almost anyone: attract jobs.”

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the state’s leading advocate for reforms to the civil justice system, lauded the bill’s passage. 

“Sen. Leach and the members of both chambers and both parties who supported SB 1157 have our sincere thanks,” Chamber spokesperson Annie Vogt said. “This measure will go a long way toward improving Arizona’s tort and legal system, and we’re grateful to the lawmakers who voted for its passage.”

Stephen Matter

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