States Address Asbestos Issues as Congress Struggles

May 10, 2005

While Congress continues to wrestle with legislation that would establish a federal trust fund to compensate individuals with asbestos-related diseases, legislatures in several key states have enacted laws that reduce frivolous lawsuits and ensure that truly ill victims are compensated fairly, according to a national insurer trade group.

“State legislatures continue to make encouraging progress,” said Ernie Csiszar, president and CEO of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “State legislatures are able to pass more targeted legislation that quickly and efficiently addresses the needs of consumers and businesses in their state. When several states take similar action on the same issue – such as asbestos – they can help set a national direction.”

Over the past two years legislatures in Ohio, Georgia, and Florida have passed bills that establish well-defined medical criteria that must be met before individuals can sue for asbestos and silica-related illnesses. Bills have been signed into law in Ohio and Georgia. A bill is pending signature by the governor of Florida. A similar bill in Texas is scheduled for a vote in the state House of Representatives this week.

The “medical criteria” approach reduces the number of asbestos lawsuits filed by individuals without any symptoms of illness, preserves the right of those exposed to asbestos to pursue legal action should they become sick, and ensures that the truly ill are compensated for their losses. Congress will consider the “medical criteria” approach later this year in a bill that has been recently introduced by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).

However, Congress is also moving forward on the establishment of a trust fund, financed by businesses and the insurance industry, to compensate asbestos victims on a national basis. Markup on the trust fund bill (S. 852, introduced by Senator Specter, R. – Pa.) will continue Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“PCI is committed to considering all approaches that would result in a certain and final resolution of the asbestos problem at an affordable cost,” said Csiszar. “S. 852, as introduced, will not achieve that goal. We will continue to seek the substantial improvements needed in the Senate bill and will work with the House to craft legislation that meets the needs of asbestos victims, the business community, and insurers. To be fair, the states have a somewhat less complicated task when addressing the asbestos issue. It is very difficult to establish a workable trust fund for an individual state, and as a result state lawmakers can focus their efforts on the medical criteria approach that can deliver results in a fair and efficient manner.”

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