Featured Expert Contributor: Mass Torts—Asbestos

Robert H. Wright is a Partner with Horvitz & Levy LLP in Los Angeles, CA and is the WLF Legal Pulse’s Featured Expert Contributor on Mass Torts—Asbestos.

Utah has adopted an asbestos reform bill, H.B. 328.  The new law should help address the recurring problem in asbestos litigation of the over-naming of defendants.

As discussed in previous WLF Legal Pulse posts, asbestos-litigation complainants commonly name dozens of defendants.  Indeed, the number of defendants named in some cases exceeds 100.  Unsurprisingly, many of these defendants are dismissed without a finding of fault or payment.  In other words, the claims against many defendants lack merit, yet the defendants must incur legal fees and costs in responding to the claims.

The new Utah law will deter the problem of over-naming by requiring plaintiffs to make disclosures of key facts within 21 days of filing an asbestos action.  Within that timeframe, the plaintiff must provide all parties with a sworn declaration setting forth the basic facts supporting the claims against each defendant.  Among other things, the declaration must state the dates, locations, and frequency of the claimed asbestos exposures.  If the plaintiff claims exposure to a product, the plaintiff must also identify the product’s brand or trade name.  With this information exchanged early in the litigation, a defendant will know the basis of the claims against it.

Attorney Mark A. Behrens made this point at a February hearing on the bill while testifying on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, arguing that the disclosure requirement is a reasonable one for plaintiffs to have to satisfy because, “Before you sue someone you should have some factual basis to know that information.”  Bill Would Raise Major Barriers to Sue for Asbestos Injuries in Utah, Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 1, 2023. 

Utah is not the first state to enact legislation addressing the over-naming problem.  Iowa and West Virginia, among other states, have enacted similar laws in recent years.  This type of legislation remains important.  The article in the Salt Lake Tribune notes that cases involving plaintiffs who once worked in shipyards or factories may have dropped off, but a new wave of cases could arise from exposure during renovation of older properties containing asbestos.

The new law will be effective in Utah on May 3, 2023.