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Proposed changes to asbestos laws in West Virginia

West Virginia is seeing a political argument on changing the laws regulating asbestos claims. The state is considered one of the more litigant-friendly states in the country, and business leaders worry that this reputation hurts the state economy and discourages investment.

In his State of the State address, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told the legislature he wants them to establish definitive criteria for asbestos claims. A doctor’s diagnosis of asbestos disease would be required before any claim could proceed and all parties would be required to disclose bankruptcy status to prevent “double-dipping”. The statue of limitations would also be amended.
State senator Karen Facemyer told a newspaper reported that the she was concerned that people from outside the state who worked for multi-state corporations could sue for asbestos claims in West Virginia courts. Changes in the law are favored by insurance companies and the Chamber of Commerce.

However, longtime judge Andrew MacQueen told a Chamber committee that changes in the law are not needed. He said none of the major participants in asbestos litigation have spoken out for reform.

MacQueen is a retired Kanawha Circuit judge and he presided over thousands of asbestos cases during his career. He pointed out that the industry in West Virginia was part of the reason for its relatively high number of cases. When active as a judge, MacQueen helped create a Case Management System for processing cases. The proposed legislation might threaten that system.