By: Karen Kidd
AUSTIN – A Texas tort reform group found information in its report all too familiar but it's likely news to the every-day Texan, a spokesperson for the group said during a recent interview.
"Having been deeply involved with this issue for over a decade, we were not surprised by anything we found in writing the report," Lucy Nashed, spokesperson for the foundation of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, told The Record. "But the general public may be because the abuse is less obvious to the public."
What may surprise the public is how trial lawyers in the state developed strategies of selecting and coaching clients to target specific defendants, overwhelm the judicial system and enrich themselves, Nashed said. There has been little justice for those truly injured by asbestos, she said.
"The report seeks to raise awareness of the history of asbestos litigation in Texas, and the common-sense reforms that have been passed over the last 10-plus years to end the abusive asbestos litigation," Nashed said. "There are many victims who have suffered real harm as a result of asbestos exposure, and it's important we keep the court system focused on helping those individuals rather than lining the pockets of a few unscrupulous lawyers. There is no specific call to action in the report, but we think knowledge is power. That's why TLR Foundation wrote the report."
Texans for Lawsuit Reform last month released its latest report, "The Story of Asbestos Litigation in Texas and its National Consequences", detailing this billions of dollars' worth of payments paid out to claimants, attorneys and for other litigation costs in the tort area's 40-year history.
Once appreciated for its heat and fire-resistant properties, asbestos is a known mesothelioma cancer-causing agent and today amphibole asbestos is banned in more than 50 countries. Many have been genuinely harmed by their exposure to asbestos. However, the Texans for Lawsuit Reform report claims that much of the mass-tort asbestos litigation has been driven by trial attorneys who carefully cherry-pick clients who have not been ill and bundle them into groups as part of class actions and other bulk lawsuits. The strategy is to overwhelm the nation's judicial system as well as defendants, leading to lucrative awards and settlements that largely benefit the same attorneys.
"The lawyers’ client-solicitation mechanisms worked exceedingly well," the report said. "Thousands of asbestos cases were filed in Texas in the decades following the release of the Borel decision in 1973, and most of the cases included dozens of plaintiffs. The total number of plaintiffs included in the thousands of asbestos cases filed in Texas courts is unknown. While Texas was a hotbed for asbestos litigation, the same thing was happening in many other states."
Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been in the forefront of the fight against abusive asbestos-related lawsuits for more than a decade and has advocated passage of legislation as part of that effort, Nashed said. That included passage of Senate Bill 15 in 2005, House Bill 1325 in 2013 andHouse Bill 1492 in 2015.
"The application of these laws to the asbestos cases pending in Texas proved what TLR had discovered - thousands of lawsuits mined by plaintiff lawyers had been filed in Texas courts on behalf tens of thousands of plaintiffs who did not have an injury for which to seek compensation," Nashed said. "The lawsuit abuse perpetrated by a group of plaintiff lawyers in Texas was established beyond a reasonable doubt."
Texans for Lawsuit Reform released its latest report because the story needed to be told, Nashed said.
"Political leaders throughout the nation need to know that lawsuit abuse can be stopped," she said. "Abusive asbestos litigation continues across the country, and many states are fighting to pass common-sense reforms to stop this lawsuit abuse. We hope this report helps in those battles. Additionally, as the report notes, Congress is considering asbestos litigation-related legislation. In sum, the report is a historical look at how Texas addressed many of the issues that other states and Congress are grappling with today."