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Iowa considering changes to meso lawsuits

Every year, thousands of Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Many of them respond by seeking some measure of recovery from the companies that exposed them to the carcinogen in the first place. But in Iowa, these victims may soon have to clear additional hurdles to make their claims.

As Iowa Public Radio recently reported, Iowa lawmakers passed a bill that would make it harder for asbestos victims to file lawsuits. As of early March, the bill was on its way to the governor, who could sign it into law. Interestingly, the passage of this bill also sheds some light on how lawmakers shape the asbestos policies across the country.

What does the bill do?

Although the bill doesn't immediately affect people outside of Iowa, state lawmakers often pay attention to the laws passed elsewhere in the country. They may turn to other states for guidance as they wrestle with similar issues, and the laws from states like Iowa can, therefore, sometimes ripple across the nation. This means that even if you don't live in Iowa, you might want to understand how Iowa's bill could someday affect your claim.

In short, the bill increases the pre-filing requirements for an asbestos-related claim. This means that before they can file, victims and attorneys need to report:

  • Each site at which the victim had worked
  • Each asbestos-containing product to which the victim was exposed
  • The frequency of that exposure

Those in favor of the bill argue that these extra requirements will spare the courts from time on frivolous cases. They say the changes will minimize "nuisance" settlements and keep more money in the system for those who have suffered the most.

Those sound like reasonable arguments, but opponents of the bill note that the state already has strict reporting requirements for claims. People who want to file suits already need to report:

  • The places they were exposed to asbestos
  • How they had been exposed
  • The dates of such exposure
  • A medical report

Opponents also pointed out that it can take decades for asbestos exposure to lead to a cancer diagnosis. That already makes it hard for victims to pinpoint the exposure that led to their illness. The bill's opponents claim the new requirements are meant to serve simply as additional "roadblocks."

Who supports the bill?

The bill passed the Iowa House along mostly partisan lines. However, this may not be particularly notable in the current political environment. The more interesting information may relate to the lobbyists who supported the bill.

The lobbyists who spoke in favor of the bill represented no fewer than 11 insurance and business organizations, including:

  • Nationwide Mutual Ins.
  • Allied Insurance
  • State Farm Insurance
  • Iowa Association of Business and Industry
  • HOA Reform Coalition

Meanwhile, the lobbyists who spoke against the bill represented the lawyers and victims likely to raise claims. These included:

  • Iowa State Bar Association
  • Iowa Academy of Trial Lawyers
  • North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters

In other words, even before it saw a vote, the bill pitted businesses and insurance companies against law and labor groups. And victims may have good reason to take a skeptical view of the advocates' central claim that it would allow insurers to direct more money to the victims who need it most. Someone might also read the new requirements as an attempt to pay out less insurance money altogether.

Victims need to overcome resistance

The debate surrounding this Iowa bill helps explain why, decades after the government became aware of the dangers of asbestos, the United States government has still not banned the substance outright.

The debate also highlights the position in which victims everywhere find themselves. As they seek compensation, they must fight both their diseases and the hurdles thrown at them by the bill. While they may be pleased to know that some lobbyists and lawmakers fighting for them, they're more likely to benefit from the assistance of attorneys who can help them meet all the standards for their cases.

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