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Missouri Senate to debate asbestos litigation reform

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate is once again considering asbestos litigation reform this session.

SB 331 from Sen. Eric Burlison seeks to establish new disclosure procedures for claimants in lawsuits over asbestos exposure. Under the act, a claimant would be required to provide information on products and manufacturers linked to the alleged exposure, as well as the circumstances of exposure and other supporting documentation, within 30 days of filing. Burlison presented his bill before the Senate Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee Monday, saying the change would require plaintiffs to support their claims before making it to court and cut down on cases that would be dismissed down the line anyway. 

“This information is really to try to get at the issue of overnaming,” he said. “What’s clear is that a lot of these actions and court cases are vaguely addressing anyone who may have been involved in the actions as opposed to getting down to the specifics, so that’s what my bill is trying to get to.”

Thousands of people die from illnesses related to asbestos exposure — such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other cancers — each year, making it one of the most prominent causes of work-related injuries and deaths. And exposure is not just confined to one industry; it’s found among veterans, first responders, plumbers, construction workers, and more. 

Five witnesses spoke in favor of the bill, including attorney Mark Behrens, who echoed Burlison’s opinion that the requirements would save businesses extensive time and money. 

“The bill before you is simply a disclosure bill,” he said. “It is the least intrusive solution that I’ve seen to try to solve this problem of eliminating waste in the legal system. The bill is not intended to take any money out of the hand of injured people, and it won’t.” 

St. Louis attorney Bart Baumstark testified against the bill, arguing the change would cause delays that could exceed the life of a plaintiff suffering from the effects of exposure, such as mesothelioma. 

“The first thing this bill would turn on its head is the pleading requirement under Missouri law,” he said. “Under this bill, you have to list every single product you believe you were exposed to, how long you were exposed to it, how close you were to it. They want a trial before a trial; it delays things, that’s what this bill has always been about.”

Two other witnesses testified against the provision. The committee did not take action on the bill.

Similar legislation from Sen. Bill Eigel stalled in the Senate last session after an 18-hour filibuster. Eigel has another attempt on deck this session, though it has yet to begin the hearing process. Opponents at the time attempted to add amendments increasing protections for firefighters and first responders and argued the bill would make it more difficult for victims to seek compensation.