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Asbestos Legislation News

Asbestos Legislation News

Asbestos Legislation News

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Asbestos legislation suffers major setback

April 5, 2005
In the 1940s, manufacturers began using asbestos as an insulator and fire retardant in hundreds of products, including insulation and floor tiles. The use of asbestos quickly became widespread, but three decades later, Americans learned exposure to asbestos could cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

The potentially deadly exposure to asbestos has resulted in more than half a million Americans filing asbestos lawsuits, according to a Rand Institute of Civil Justice study in 2002. For years, talks of creating a trust fund established by payments from manufacturers and insurance companies in order to rein in judgments from asbestos lawsuits has failed to progress beyond just talk. Unable to reach a compromise, the asbestos battle has persisted for more than two years over the details of the trust fund.

Now, following months of negotiations, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) was hoping to introduce a trust-fund bill this week so the committee could vote on it next week, but more than a dozen insurance companies have dropped their support for a $140 billion federal trust fund to pay claims stemming from asbestos related lawsuits. The previous Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, spent the majority of the past year trying to reach a compromise with manufacturers, insurance companies, labor unions and trial lawyers.

In order obtain Democratic support Mr. Hatch increased the size of the trust fund from $90 billion to $140 billion. Senate Democrats blocked the legislation last year saying the fund was not large enough to adequately cover the millions of Americans at risk for developing asbestos related diseases. The latency period for some asbestos related diseases could take decades to appear following exposure.

The loss of insurance company support makes it unlikely that Congress will approve legislation on an asbestos trust fund this year. The insurance companies wrote a letter to Mr. Specter saying they “have become increasingly skeptical that a trust fund can ultimately provide the certainty and finality all parties seek.” Without the backing of the insurance companies, Mr. Specter will have difficulty moving the legislation through his committee in upcoming weeks.
Some business opponents of the asbestos trust fund hope Congress will turn to a proposal requiring medical criteria to determine payouts to plaintiffs in asbestos suits, saying this plan would cost U.S. manufacturers and insurers much less money. Still, most manufacturers say they would like to see Mr. Specter’s plan enacted. Unlike last year, the asbestos proposal has met opposition by members of Mr. Specter’s own party. A group of conservative Republicans have turned against the bill in response to the boosted size of the trust fund to $140 million, claiming it is too generous to trial lawyers and labor unions.

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