Buffalo-area Democrat, along with several others, proposed a bill to increase transparency in asbestos-related legal actions. The proposed laws came on the heels of the conviction of New York Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, for federal corruption related to asbestos cases. Democrats noted that Mr. Silver had been a roadblock to reform, and with that obstacle removed, proposed legislation is expected to gain more traction.
Problems with Asbestos Cases in New York
Mr. Silver had previously worked at a personal injury firm that specialized in asbestos cases. He was convicted of seven counts of honest services fraud, extortion, and money laundering. He was accused of providing state funding to a doctor whose asbestos research center gave clients to Silver’s former firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C., one of the most prominent asbestos-focused law firms in the United States. Mr. Silver received millions as a result of this arrangement.
The American Tort Reform Association called New York City’s courts dealing with asbestos issues the number one “Judicial Hellhole” in the U.S. in 2014. In 2015, they ranked the New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL) the second-most unfair in the country based on the handling of those cases.
More About the Asbestos Bill
The bill addressed funding provided to victims of asbestos-related accidents and their families. The bill would prevent victims from putting the blame on one company in a civil action and then also accusing other companies when they submit their claims to bankruptcy trusts. The bill would essentially prevent duplicate recoveries for the same injuries. It has been touted as an anti-corruption bill aimed at New York personal injury lawyers.
Other states have similar measures already in place. These include Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The U.S. House of Representatives also approved the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act, but no Democrats voted for it in January 2016. At that time, the Obama administration stated that it would oppose the bill and veto it if it was presented to the President.
The New York bill notes that asbestos litigation has forced an estimated 85 employers into bankruptcy in New York. Between 2000 and 2004, there were more asbestos-related bankruptcies than in the past two decades combined. The bill would force coordination and communication between civil defendants and those alleging claims in bankruptcy proceedings.
Concerns that the Bill Addresses
The bill addresses duplicate recovery, and there are two reasons that this is important. First, it prevents the personal injury attorneys in New York from recovering their lawyers’ fees twice. The victims were first recovering out of the civil case and then paying their attorney a contingency fee. Then, the lawyer would encourage them to file again in the bankruptcy case, with the lawyer collecting a portion of those monies as well. The bill would prevent this unscrupulous practice by New York personal injury lawyers who specialize in asbestos cases.
The second concern it addresses is that there simply isn’t enough money to go around for all of the victims if some are getting a double recovery. If these companies are in bankruptcy, there are obviously concerns about running out of funds to address all of the victims’ needs. This bill would allow more equitable sharing among victims.