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An unexpected decision handed down by the Texas Supreme Court last Friday may breath some life into claims leveled against one company, Crown Cork & Seal, for injuries incurred by those exposed to asbestos. The high court of Texas has often been criticized by those representing victims of corporate greed for being too pro business.

In 2003, Texas passed tort "reform" legislation which all but killed the rights of some individuals to seek justice in Texas when they are injured by the negligence of others. The most notable of such people are victims of medical malpractice, but the legislation also contained a provision specifically designed to limit liability for asbestos related claims against Crown Cork & Seal. When Barbara Robinson pursued claims for her husband’s death from asbestos related causes, the provision was used to defeat her claims against Crown Cork & Seal.

The question before the court was whether Robinson had a vested right in her claims against Crown Cork & Seal, such that the new law could not be applied retroactively to provide for dismissal of her claims. The court correctly concluded that the law could not be so applied. This case highlights the fear that some corporations have for having claims against them heard in open court. If they really have behaved as responsible corporate citizens, presumably the evidence presented will bear that out. If they have not and claimants have been injured as a result, why shouldn’t they be held accountable? Notions of personal responsibility abound with little controversy or concern. It seems only fair to apply those same notions apply across the board.

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