AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Senate passed legislation Thursday that allows an easier recovery of damages for certain people who have been exposed to asbestos. This is a very rare win for personal injury trial lawyers.
The bill, which passed 20-11 a preliminary vote, only applies to lawsuits that involve mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma (mez-uh-thee-lee-O-muh) is a very aggressive form of cancer that attacks the tissue known as the mesothelium, which protects the heart, stomach, lungs, and other organs by making a special fluid that allows the organs to move. Because of the long latency period, mesothelioma symptoms may not be known until several decades later, when the disease is highly incurable.
The only known cause of mesothelioma is through asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. Once inhaled, the fibers become irretrievably lodged in the outer linings of a body’s major organs.
The legislation has various steps to undertake before becoming law, but after this happens it will require less proof on the part of asbestos litigants to show that exposure was significant enough to cause their cancer.
100 percent of the Democratic vote went to support the legislation.
The debate, however, lasted several hours as Republicans discussed whether this bill would negatively affect businesses and whether trial lawyers deserved big contingency fees for winning an asbestos case. The Republicans rule the senate with a 19-12 ratio.
“Trial lawyers chase big pots of money,” Senator Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said. “This is a big pot of money.”
Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said mesothelioma victims face huge delays and hassles trying to meet a relatively high standard of proof in asbestos lawsuits. He also said that the bill would not “ruin the business climate in Texas.” Duncan pointed out that the bill was designed to aid a very small group of cancer victims.
Without legislation, Duncan said, “these people are gonna be dead by the time their case is finally resolved.”