Democrats Decry Bill Restricting Asbestos Lawsuits

Mar 13, 2017

After bitter partisan debate, the Iowa House last night approved a bill to change the rules for Iowa workers filing asbestos-related lawsuits.   

Critics say workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance could be harmed by the bill.   

But backers say meritless cases are clogging up the courts.

"The lawyer files literally hundreds of cases, and then the defendants just give them something as a nuisance value,” said Rep. Andy McKean (R-Anamosa).  “That depletes resources for people who really need them." 

Iowa House of Representatives
Credit John Pemble/IPR

McKean says the bill will penalize the companies who are most responsible for workers’ exposure.

He says workers who aren’t yet ill could see their cases delayed.

“This helps ensure that those with symptoms, those who are sick, have priority,” McKean said.  “I want to emphasize those who are exposed but don't have any symptoms may bring tort action later if symptoms develop in the future.”

Democrats argued that could delay justice for defendants.  

“People who are actually affected by this legislation, people who have experience going through this with their family members have written to us asking us to oppose this bill,” said Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids).

And Democrats say new filing requirements for plaintiffs will be hard to achieve.

"I think all this does is restrict the ability of people who have suffered a life-threatening exposure to asbestos to recover," said Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton).   "It makes a very difficult situation even more so.”

There are currently 17 Iowa cases of asbestos exposure making their way through the courts.  

More than two thousand Iowans have died of asbestos-related disease since 1999.  

The vote in the House was 56 to 39.    In earlier debate in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Dix referred to the “greedy trial lawyers” who benefit from the current system.

The bill now goes to the governor.