On May 6, the Senate was unsuccessful in keeping negotiations alive at creating a federally run asbestos trust fund (S. 2290) to compensate victims of asbestos diseases. Talks ended when parties mutually agreed to disagree over how big the fund should be.
S. 2290, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, would protect the rights of those with asbestos-related injuries and preserve American business and the economy.
“We commend Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, R-Penn., and their respective staffs, as well as Judge Edward Becker, for their extraordinary hard work over the past several months to address the asbestos litigation dilemma. All parties involved (insurers, labor, and defendant companies) have been negotiating in intense good faith discussions and have made significant progress, but unfortunately we seem to be far from reaching a resolution,” said David A. Winston, senior vice president, federal affairs, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC).
Asbestos claims are inundating the United States courts at an alarming rate. To date, the number of asbestos liability claims filed in the U.S. numbers more than 700,000. Recent statistics show that 100,000 new asbestos claims were filed in 2003, which was more than triple the amount just two years before. With tens of thousands of new claims filed each year, legal experts expect that the total number of lawsuits could eventually exceed 2.5 million. Additionally, some experts predict that asbestos liability could ultimately cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion.
One reason for the drastic increase in asbestos lawsuits is that the scope of defendants has widened to those companies with only peripheral involvement with asbestos. Another reason for the large amount of asbestos claims is due to the increase in claims by those plaintiffs who are not truly impaired or injured. Today, courts now allow people to sue even though they exhibitno signs of physical injuries or sickness.
“NAMIC believes that Congress must address the current asbestos liability crisis.There are people that have been physically injured or have died from exposure to asbestos, and the legal system should fairly and adequately compensate these innocent victims,” stated Marliss A. Browder, NAMIC federal affairs director.
“However, today’s systemallows some individuals to sue and obtain compensation when they are not injured. Wrongly awarding damages to unimpaired plaintiffs only serves to prevent the truly injured from obtaining just compensation. NAMIC remains committed to working with the Congress to address this crisis and to develop meaningful asbestos litigation reform legislation,” said Browder.
Last year, the Judiciary Committee passed a much larger bill out of committee, on a near party-line vote. A cloture vote aimed at bringing the bill to the floor failed last month.
“Although all interested parties have failed to reach a compromise, Senate Majority Leader Frist and Senate Minority Leader Daschle remain committed to addressing the asbestos litigation crisis and are diligently working to pass a reform bill this year,” Browder said.
Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004 12:00:00 AM. Modified: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 10:01:14 AM.
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