AAI Notes Congress Needs to Act in Wake of Supreme Court Decision

March 12, 2003

Reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Ayers et al, Alliance of American Insurers senior vice president Dave Farmer issued the following statement:

“Our judicial system, including the Supreme Court, should not function in a manner that ignores economic realities. This ruling – while it applies solely to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) – may deny justice for future victims of asbestos, for there will certainly be fewer resources to go around as a consequence of this decision. The result of this case will be harmful to businesses and workers alike.

“Fortunately, the majority opinion acknowledges that national legislation is needed, and it is the responsibility of Congress – not the courts – to respond.

“In his dissenting opinion, Justice Kennedy said: ‘This decision is not employee protecting, it is employee threatening.’ Unfortunately, the majority failed to heed to that crucial point and chose to ignore an important earlier case, Metro-North Commuter R. Co. v. Buckley, in which the Court posed the question: ‘In a world of limited resources, would a rule permitting immediate large-scale recoveries for widespread emotional distress caused by fear of future disease diminish the likelihood of recovery by those who later suffer from the disease?’

“As legislative leaders in Congress grapple with how best to reform a system that is currently broken, the decision rendered yesterday was one more piece of evidence that Congress must act immediately to correct a serious imbalance in our judicial system.

“The Supreme Court continues to state asbestos is a problem that ‘defies customary judicial administration,’ and has asked Congress to act.”

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