Asbestos Bill to Reach Senate Floor

April 20, 2004

Republican Senators, led by Utah’s Orrin Hatch, plan to introduce legislation today to establish a fund of up to $124 billion to compensate victims of asbestos related diseases.

The measure has been in the works for months, and not everyone is pleased with the proposal. American International Group has openly refused to support it, arguing that the basic goal of establishing such a trust fund will prove to be unworkable. In addition the industry would be expected to come up with a large portionof the required funds.

Democrats largely oppose the plan, as they feel that even the amount proposed will eventually prove insufficient to adequately compensate the number of people who are already ill or who are expected to become victims of asbestos related diseases. For the most part the party supports trial lawyers’ associations, who oppose the bill, ostensibly because it would diminish victims’ rights.

However, establishing a trust fund would also put quite a dent in the cottage industry that asbestos related litigation has become – to the monetary benefit of the trial lawyers. It is also seen as an increasing burden on the justice system, and in many cases a tool for abuse, with healthy claimants grouped with those who are actually ill.

Any proposal might be better than nothing, as the huge amounts already paid out – an estimated $70 billion to more than 730,000 claimants – are expected to triple in the coming years. More than 60 companies have been forced into bankruptcy by the onslaught of asbestos claims.

Although the White House has come out in favor of the bill, even though the Bush Administration has some misgivings about the proposals, it is by no means sure that it will pass. To overcome procedural hurdles in the Senate a majority of 60 votes will be required.

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