Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, October 18, 2019

I-LAW supports legislation for oversight in asbestos claims; But 'double dipping' law not likely to get chance in Illinois, Akin says

By April Bamburg | Apr 11, 2016

Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch | Courtesy of Travis Akin

Companies have put billions of dollars into asbestos trust funds that are designed to compensate victims of conditions that have been caused by exposure to asbestos, and due to slack oversight, there are often opportunities for fraud to occur.

Lawmakers in Utah recently passed a bill designed to inhibit asbestos fraud and the “double-dipping” that can occur when lawyers for individuals who have been affected by asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma file a claim with the asbestos trust fund and also file a second claim in civil courts. Because there is limited coordination between the civil court actions related to asbestos and the trust funds established to compensate those who are affected, particularly in Illinois, many claims are filed in the state.

Legislators in Utah passed the Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act (House Bill 403), which is designed to create more transparency in asbestos bankruptcy trust claims in civil court actions, and to limit the opportunities for fraud in asbestos-related cases. This bill requires that in all asbestos actions filed there, plaintiffs must disclose all claims to an asbestos trust in relation to the civil action, whether those claims are actually filed or could be filed.

Madison County has become known as the place to file asbestos-related claims – and some, like Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, say that legislation to end double-dipping into the Asbestos Trust Fund is absolutely needed.

“Madison County is ground zero for asbestos litigation, and most of these cases have nothing to do with Madison County,” Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch told the Madison County Record. 

“In Illinois, there have been efforts to pass similar legislation, but the House and Senate refuse to move forward on this common sense [type of bill].”

When bills related to lawsuit reform come before Illinois legislators, Akin said that they don’t often get hearings, because legislators aren’t interested in lawsuit reform. 

“In Illinois, legislative leaders control bills that are called for a vote or that get assigned to committee,” Akin said. “Legislative leaders are adamantly opposed to lawsuit reform. In the recent past, they did have a hearing on legislation like this, but when they have hearings, there’s no intention to call these bills for a vote.”

Some of the lawsuit reforms that Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch supports might have a chance, but Akin says it never gets a chance. Lawsuit reform is heard in committee, for substantive hearings, but there isn’t a vote. 

“It’s the only option we have. From time to time, in hearings, legislators do listen to the point of view that says we need lawsuit reform,” Akin said.

Akin said there is no denying that mesothelioma is a horrible disease.

"But, personal injury lawyers should not be able to file a claim to the trust and a separate claim elsewhere,” he said. “They shouldn’t be able to cash in twice for the same case.”

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