On March 10, 2020, in a 54 to 46 vote, the Iowa House of Representatives passed Senate File 2337 (SF2337) in an effort to reduce the over-naming of asbestos defendants in related lawsuits filed in Iowa. The legislation focuses on reducing, or eliminating, the over-naming of asbestos defendants by requiring plaintiffs to provide detailed evidence of exposure for each named defendant. While Iowa is not known as a hot-spot for asbestos-related lawsuits, Iowa has reportedly seen its fair share of alleged asbestos related deaths.¹ Iowa’s lack of asbestos filings likely comes as a result of the state’s significant tort reform efforts, with SF2337 being the latest addition.
This bill comes on the heels of SF376, recently codified as Chapters 686A through 686C, which sets out a number of asbestos- and silica-specific laws. The Code contains Iowa’s asbestos Bankruptcy Transparency Act laws, the rules regarding limitations on liability for third-party manufacturers and sellers, and the requirement that non-malignant claimants must show a prima facie case of causation before the claim can move forward.
Passing SF2337, the Iowa Legislature continues its tort reform efforts, this time focusing specifically on the over-naming of asbestos defendants in related matters. To rectify this practice, the bill requires that a plaintiff file a sworn affidavit, in addition to the initial pleading, with specified evidence serving as a basis for his or her claim against each named defendant. The affidavit must include personal identifying information of each exposed person, including current and past worksites as well as the employers of the exposed person. The bill also requires that the affidavit contain the identity of each person through whom exposure is alleged, each asbestos-containing product to which the exposed person claims exposure, the location, date, and manner of exposure, as well as the identity of the manufacturer or seller of the alleged asbestos-containing product. Additionally, the affidavit must state the specific disease claimed by the Plaintiff and must contain any supporting documentation related to the information contained in the affidavit. Finally, SF2337 provides that a plaintiff’s failure to provide this information against a defendant shall result in a dismissal as to that defendant.
Despite the Legislature’s passage, the bill’s fate is yet to be determined. Like many other states in late February and early March, Iowa began taking precautionary safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 16, 2020, the legislature was suspended in order to comply with Iowa’s state safety orders. At this time, SF2337 remains on Governor Kim Reynold’s desk awaiting either signature or veto.
For toxic tort lawyers defending asbestos claims, it is important to recognize that asbestos litigation has evolved over the last quarter century. Over time, many asbestos manufacturers and other leading defendants have filed for bankruptcy, leaving plaintiffs’ attorneys naming a different subset of companies as defendants. This has led to over-naming of asbestos defendants, which can drive up costs for defendants that do not belong in the suit and overburden the judicial system due to the backlog of claims. If signed into law, SF2337 will help address this issue and hopefully have lawsuits focused on parties with actual alleged exposure.
¹ Various reports allege thousands of asbestos-related deaths in Iowa each year, however, no specific Iowa asbestos-related deaths numbers have been published by a non-partisan source. A published NIOSH report states that 224 Iowa residents died as a result of malignant mesothelioma from 2001 to 2010.