Late yesterday, Senators closed in on creating a $108 billion asbestos liability trust fund in exchange for an end to litigation.
In the fourth installment of a Judiciary panel markup of the pending asbestos bill, S. 1125, the “Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (“FAIR”) Act of 2003,” the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation creating the fund and banning asbestos lawsuits.
The committee approved the legislation after agreeing on a list of payments to people who have been exposed to asbestos, which was the last major hurdle on the bill.
“NAMIC is generally pleased by the efforts in Congress and the Senate Judiciary Committee to receive the support necessary to vote the FAIR Act out of Committee,” said Monte Ward, NAMIC’s federal affairs vice president.
“NAMIC has long supported legislation that would establish standard medical criteria and prioritize compensation for asbestos victims which makes actual impairment an essential element of a claim by requiring evidence of physical impairment and specifies criteria to make such judgments,” said Ward.
The fund would recognize 10 levels of asbestos-related diseases: five levels of nonmalignant disease and five levels of cancer, including colorectal cancer and lung cancer.
A claimant with mesothelioma, the most lethal of the asbestos-caused cancers, would get $1 million. People with other cancers and at other levels of exposures would get less, and smokers, ex-smokers and nonsmokers who are sick from asbestos-related diseases would get different amounts of money.
The FAIR Act is intended to reform the nation’s asbestos liability system by creating a fairer and more efficient system for resolving the asbestos claims of victims. As originally introduced, the Act would establish a $108 billion trust fund to be financed, in part, by insurers and defendant companies to pay for asbestos-related claims over a 27-year period. Insurers would be responsible for $45 billion. The Act would also establish an Asbestos Commission that would identify and determine the liability of participating insurers into the trust fund.
“However, NAMIC remains disappointed with the adoption of the Feinstein amendment to the asbestos bill,” stated Ward. “This provision could potentially raise the amount of the original trust fund to $153 billion from $108 billion. Also, the amendment could force insurers to pay an additional $1 billion per year for as long as the administrator deems necessary. The Feinstein amendment eliminates any certainty or finality that the original bill provided,” said Ward.
The Feinstein amendment would allow for the delay or elimination of scheduled reductions in company payments into the fund and potentially require insurers and defendants to each contribute as much as $1 billion per year after the initial 27-year period.
“NAMIC will continue to work with Congress and Chairman Hatch as this bill makes its way to the full Senate,” added Ward.
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