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Senate moves asbestos-related claims bill

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Sen. Travis Hutson

Sen. Travis Hutson

A divided Senate agreed Monday to approve a measure that would make it harder to sue asbestos manufacturers.

The Senate voted 29-6 to approve SB 720 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. The move, four days before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn, keeps the proposal alive for this year.

“This is the asbestos bill we talked about last week,” Hutson said. “It allows the case to be dismissed without prejudice if the information is missing.”

A companion, HB 1367 by Rep. Robbie Brackett, R-Vero Beach, failed to advance on the House calendar before time expired for considering House bills on second reading.

Now the House can approve SB 720, and send it to the governor’s desk, before the session ends March 8.

The measure would require a court to dismiss asbestos claims that are not accompanied by a form that list such things as the plaintiff’s smoking history and the names and addresses of people who witnessed the plaintiff’s exposure.

Sponsors say a large percentage of plaintiffs in asbestos-related claims are ultimately dismissed, and the measure would reduce businesses’ litigation costs by narrowing the field more quickly.

During a lengthy debate last month, Brackett said that in addition to benefitting defendants, the measure would help injured plaintiffs “obtain justice” more quickly.

The measure is supported by businesses and business-backed groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Insurance Council, and the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

Democrats, veterans’ groups, and the Florida Justice Association argue that injuries associated with asbestos are often fatal and not diagnosed until decades after exposure.

Creating another procedural hurdle increases the risk that injured plaintiffs will die before their case is resolved, said FJA General Counsel Bill Cotterall.

“Once they have that diagnosis, it’s basically a terminal condition. Anything that delays justice is problematic,” Cotterall said.

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