Political Aparthy Among Paralegals

28 05 2010

The Texas House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee conducted an interim hearing on the Borg-Warner v. Flores standard of causation in mesothelioma lawsuits on Wednesday. The hearing represents a continuation of discussions regarding H.B. 1811, which never made it out of committee the last legislative sessions. If passed, the bill would relax the causation standards for mesothelioma cases in Texas.

For those of you not familiar with Texas asbestos litigation, it was once the envy of plaintiffs’ attorneys from coast to coast. However, in 2005, the Texas legislature passed an asbestos tort reform bill, SB 15, which became law in September 2005 and dramatically altered the litigation landscape. Consider these numbers from Harris County, Texas. In 2004, there were 2,797 asbestos cases, many of them multi-plaintiff matters filed in Harris County. In 2005, 3,651 asbestos cases were filed in Harris County, but starting in 2006 a sharp decline began to take shape with only 1,363 new asbestos cases filed, followed by 520 in 2007 and 358 new asbestos cases in 2008. This trend even greater in other counties across the state.

On June 8, 2007, the Texas Supreme Court released its Borg-Warner v. Flores opinion, which required numerical proof of dose as to each defendant. In effect, this decision established an insurmountable and unattainable standard of causation for mesothelioma claimants. This led Texas plaintiff attorneys scrambling to file their suits in other states, drawing the ire of the out-of-state judges along the way. Other states flat out rejected the Borg-Warner decision. Representative Craig Eilan sponsored HB 1811 as a means of eliminating the requirement of quantifiable dose.

The potential impact of this bill, and it’s companion bill, S.B. 1123, extends far beyond asbestos litigation in Texas. Indeed, if left unchallenged Borg-Warner could change the way product liability exposure cases are handled all across the country. It stands to reason that paralegals involved in asbestos litigation in Texas have an active interest in tracking these bills as they make their way through the legislative process, yet you’ll find very little chatter about these bills on blogs, Twitter or other social media outlets. It seems that this is indicative of something far more disturbing, a general sense of political apathy among many in the legal community, including paralegals.

I was raised in a political family, so following these matters seems only natural. Regardless of what area of law you work in, your job is directly affected by the decisions made by our elected officials. To show no interest in these matters, to have no opinion on the bills they pass or legislation they block makes no sense to me.