Friday, February 10, 2006
In today's Post editorial (and most coverage), the main opponents of the asbestos bill are identified as trial lawyers: "But the truth is that the bill's main opponents are trial lawyers, who profit mightily from asbestos lawsuits and who constitute a powerful lobby in their own right."
While I'm certain that it's true that much public opposition comes from the plaintiffs' bar (see ATLA, for example), there's another interest group that may (quietly) oppose it: defense firms that make their money on these suits.
I spoke recently with a (non-asbestos) defense lawyer who mostly practices in various southern states typically identified as "judicial hellholes," and he said that in his region, the defense firms were possibly more upset about the reform bill than the plaintiffs' bar. The plaintiffs' attorneys have already made a pile of money from asbestos, he suggested, and are perhaps better able to find a new area (as many of them did after the addition of arbitration provisions in credit agreements, for example), while the defense firms rely on the hourly defense work and may be less able to shift gears. And, not incidentally, it's a lot of work to start a new area of law -- just like there are asbestos plaintiffs' "trials in a box," defense firms have no doubt put together stock discovery answers, examinations, etc., that make the work not that difficult. It takes time -- and it might not be billable time.
Even if true, of course, the defense firms aren't going to go out and publicly lobby against their clients' interests (and it seems evident that this bill would generally benefit defendants). And so perhaps pockets of opposition from defense firms don't make that big of a difference. But it may at least be oversimplifying to say that the opposition is entirely from the plaintiffs' bar.