Asbestos Defendants Scheme to Deprive Plaintiffs of Justice in Pennsylvania

Forty years on, asbestos defendants keep inventing new tricks to let them escape paying their fair share for the harm they have caused.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, asbestos companies are pushing a bill that seeks to limit the ability of plaintiffs to recover for asbestos-related injuries.

State lawmakers have already held one hearing on the measure, with more possibly coming. Particularly egregious, though, is language contained in the final sentence of Subsection 4 atop Page 4 of the bill. As worded, it allows defendants to receive credit for the maximum setoff of any amount collected from bankruptcy trust funds.

How would this work if implemented? Say, for example, a trust asserts that a plaintiff can collect $200,000 for a claim, but stipulates it will pay only $10,000 per claim because there are too many other injured plaintiffs and not enough money to go around. In this situation, the courtroom defendants will receive a credit for the $200,000 that COULD have been collected, not the $10,000 actually received!

So, if a plaintiff collected $10,000 apiece from five trusts and then a jury awarded him $1 million, the $50,000 received would not be subtracted from the award and there would not be a recoverable balance of $950,000. There would be a balance of zero because, hypothetically at least, the plaintiff could have received $200,000 from each of those five trusts, giving him on paper a potential combined total of $1 million.

In short, this plaintiff would be entitled to nothing more than the $50,000 already collected.

After listening to witnesses opposed to the bill explain this outrageous element, committee members in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives grew visibly annoyed with the measure’s proponents. We take that as a hopeful sign the bill — should it reach the full floor of that chamber — will suffer the death it deserves and never become law in Pennsylvania.

Weitz & Luxenberg is proud to be part of the consortium fighting this bill. In every jurisdiction in the land, we will continue to educate state and national legislators about the importance of preserving the rights of our clients.

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