SALT LAKE CITY — William Dale Peterson, 70, told a Utah House committee that he is dying. So did 71-year-old Thomas Florence. And Larry Boynton testified that his wife of 46 years, Barbara, died Saturday.

All three suffer or suffered from mesothelioma brought on by years of exposure to asbestos.

The three men implored the House Business and Labor Committee to reject a bill that they say would delay or deny their ability to collect compensation through the legal system.

"It's only a matter of time before this disease takes my life, which is now measured in days and weeks rather than in months and rather than in years," said Florence, who worked for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. "If this bill passes, it will stop my case and delay my case for no good reason. And mostly make it that I don't see my day in court."

HB403, titled Asbestos Litigation Transparency Act, would require plaintiffs to fully disclose their asbestos exposure as they pursue claims through the courts and a federal asbestos trust fund. The bill prohibits a case from going to trial for at least six months after plaintiffs have made those disclosures.

House Majority Assistant Whip Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told the committee that plaintiffs are "double dipping." Limited coordination and transparency between the two paths for compensation has resulted in suppression of evidence in asbestos cases and potential fraud, according to the bill.

At least six states, he said, have adopted legislation to address the problem.

The committee voted 7-3 to advance the legislation, but with some reservations. Wilson agreed to work with the various parties to resolve their differences before the bill hits the House floor.

Phil Goldberg, an attorney representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, told the committee that the bill promotes honesty in litigation and allows a jury to be fully informed. He said creative lawyers have found ways to "game" the system.

Goldberg said 60 asbestos trusts have $36.8 billion in assets. In addition to suing in court, plaintiffs file on average against 18 to 20 trusts, he said.

"This does not in any way affect someone's right to have their day in court," he said.

Park City attorney Rick Nemeroff, who represents Peterson and Florence, said the bill is a solution in search of a problem. He called it an out-of-state legislative attack on a system that works fine in Utah. Double dipping, he said, doesn't exist.

"I'm offended that I'm being accused of gaming the system," he said. "There is no fraud. There is no crisis."

Wilson disagreed that it's not a problem in Utah and that the bill is being imposed by outside interests. States around the country, he said, are passing legislation to deal with it.

Time limits in the bill would stop the legal process and put an unfair burden on the plaintiffs, Nemeroff said.

Peterson worked around asbestos at Utah Power & Light for 32 years. He said the makers of those products profited for years and none of them included warnings about the hazards of asbestos.

"I had no idea that these asbestos products would cause me to get a terminal cancer," he told lawmakers. "This robbed us all of the choice and ability to protect ourselves."

Boynton said it took doctors six months to diagnose his wife. She learned she had mesothelioma Feb. 9. She died Feb. 27.

"Time is a commodity that victims of this disease have very little of," Boynton said. "Utah should help suffering, not create unnecessary hurdles."


Twitter: dennisromboy