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Press Release

    Preventing an Asbestos Mess in Kansas

    04/07/2006

    Better safe than sorry – sound advice every mother gives their child.

    Soon, the Kansas State Legislature will have a chance to follow this sage advice in the form of asbestos litigation reform legislation: House Bill HR 2868.

    Lucky for the people and businesses in the state, Kansas has not become a hotbed of questionable asbestos litigation.

    However, the Legislature cannot afford to be complacent about this matter because the current law in Kansas makes the state a ripe target for trial lawyers looking to exploit the system to their advantage.

    Here is just one example of why the courts in Kansas could become the next target of trial lawyers:

    Under Kansas’s current law, a trial lawyer could bring a class action case against a corporation in Kansas – even if none of the people the lawyer is claiming to be a victim lives in Kansas, was exposed to asbestos in Kansas, or could even find the Sunflower State on a map. What’s worse, many of these are frivolous lawsuits.

    When I say frivolous, I am not referring to people who have been made gravely ill by their long-term exposure to asbestos and are entitled to be fairly compensated for their losses. By frivolous, I am talking about lawsuits brought by trial lawyers who get millions of dollars for people who claim to be victims of asbestos because they have been exposed -- even if they are not sick. In fact, recent studies have found that 90% of people suing for asbestos exposure are not sick at all.

    The court’s priority should be to protect the 10% of people who are actually sick and entitled to fair compensation for their illness. To ensure that the 10% always have access to the courts, the Kansas Legislature should take this opportunity to pass HR 2868 that develops a definitive medical criteria for people suing for asbestos exposure. A definitive medical criteria means you can not sue for asbestos exposure unless first you are sick and second asbestos exposure is the reason you are sick.

    This common sense approach would keep frivolous lawsuits from clogging Kansas courts and help ensure the 10% who are suffering do have access to judge and jury.

    Failure to free the system of the burden of frivolous lawsuits can cause widespread damage and have far reaching effects. Such litigation can mean serious trouble for the real victims of asbestos poisoning who rely upon the court system to seek legal redress. Frivolous law suits unfairly bankrupt companies and prematurely render the trust funds set up for asbestos victims insolvent. Nationwide, asbestos claims have cost more than $70 billion and more than 70 corporations have been forced to file for bankruptcy.

    A bankrupted company or penniless trust fund is no benefit to victims who need help to pay for medical costs, to take care of their families, or who deserve to be compensated for their injuries. Furthermore, when trial lawyers put companies out of business it is bad for the economy. After the companies are squeezed dry, thousands of employees are left without jobs. Towns that relied on those jobs and the health of that company are crippled.

    Another reason to be concerned is that a business that was thinking of moving to Kansas or opening a branch in Kansas might choose another state where that state’s legislature has taken steps to protect employers from frivolous asbestos lawsuits. In the global economy in which we now live, can Kansas really afford to take such risks? The elected representatives in Topeka need to act now.

    The US Congress is still grappling with the issue of asbestos litigation reform. Fortunately, they are considering legislation similar to HR 2868, the bill being debated today in the Kansas Legislature that improves Kansas’ legal system by making sure those truly harmed are the ones compensated.

    But until Congress passes such legislation at the national level, Kansas’ legislature must pass HR 2868 to protect the people and the businesses of Kansas. This legislation could go a long way toward keeping Kansas free of out-of-state trial lawyers using the state’s courts to line their own pockets and leave the real victims of asbestos out of luck. Remember: It is better to be safe than sorry.