JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri House on Thursday passed legislation to change the rules for lawsuits over asbestos exposure, an effort praised by supporters as a way to stop plaintiffs from being overcompensated but criticized by others as limiting access to justice for those with illnesses such as mesothelioma.
The measure, approved 96-48, would require plaintiffs alleging harm from asbestos to file claims against every potentially liable company or bankrupt company's trust fund at once. Currently, those injured from the carcinogen could win compensation from one company and then, at a later time pursue another claim against a different defendant.
Republican sponsor Rep. Bruce DeGroot of Chesterfield said the current law creates an opportunity for "double dipping" by plaintiffs, who he said could be overcompensated as a result.
The measure is part of a push by GOP leaders to enact "tort reform," which means restrictions and other changes to the rules of lawsuits that are generally aimed at limiting legal action against businesses.
"It is designed to keep us from being called the 'sue-me state' instead of the Show-me State," DeGroot said of his bill, referencing Missouri's nickname.
But bipartisan critics said enacting the measure will hinder people with asbestos-related illnesses from taking their claims to court.
Jefferson City Republican Rep. Jay Barnes cited firefighters, who he said would face challenges identifying every source of asbestos they've been exposed to at work in initial court filings. He also said the proposed additional requirements on plaintiffs could take up so much time that some die of mesothelioma before getting their day in court.
"Who are you here to protect?" Poplar Bluff Republican Rep. Steve Cookson asked colleagues on the floor. "Are you here to protect the companies, or are you here to protect those people?"
The measure now heads to the Senate.