West Virginia Legislature Looks at Asbestos Liability

The Kanawha County (West Virginia) Circuit Court is one of the country’s hotspots when it comes to asbestos litigation. In the 22-year period between 1979 and 2001, over 700 people in West Virginia died of asbestos-related diseases, 172 of them in Kanawha County.
What is surprising is that despite a legislative climate in which federal and state lawmakers often lovingly embrace corporations yet seem to pointedly neglect the needs and wishes of their constituents, all attempts by legislators to protect corporations from responsibility for exposing people to asbestos have failed. On the other hand, the sheer number of asbestos claims has caused a serious backlog of cases in many jurisdictions due to the number of lawsuits being filed. Some of this could be solved if the United States would simply join the major democratic, industrialized nations in removing the profit motive from health care and acknowledged it as a right of all people. Unfortunately, except for the eighty or so Progressives in Congress, lawmakers in Washington D.C. show little inclination to stand up to the corporate behemoths that care more about the health of their balance sheets than the health of people they are supposed to serve. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the State of Virginia are looking to shield companies from asbestos liability unless there is, according to state house Minority Leader Don Caruth, “…credible, reliable evidence of impairment related either to silicosis and asbestos.”

Essentially, it would bar people exposed to asbestos from filing lawsuits until they are actually diagnosed with a disease. The flip side of the proposed legislation would remove the statute of limitations for filing a claim; “…there will be no statute of limitations, so that no matter how long ago you had that exposure, you can always come back, even years later, and still maintain your civil action,” says Caruth. Another issue that affects small businesses as far as asbestos is concerned is the Worker’s Compensation and Insurance program in West Virginia, which was turned over to a private, for-profit corporation in 2000. There have been many complaints by small business owners about questionable increases in premiums. Members of the Democratic majority are considering reforms to the legislation that granted BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Company the right to act as the state’s sole provider of worker’s comp insurance.