A new bill to limit corporate liability in asbestos litigation has the broad support of industry, including the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the Tire Industry Association.
Sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act would establish a five-judge federal court of asbestos claims to consider asbestos-related cases on a no-fault basis. The court would grant awards to patients suffering from asbestos-related illnesses or their survivors, based on the seriousness of the illness. The top award-$750,000-would go only to claimants with mesothelioma, or cancer of the lining of the chest cavity, the most serious asbestos-related disease.
Funding for the claims would amount to $108 billion over 25 years, with the money coming from the insurance industry, companies facing litigation, compounded interest and other sources.
As with previous asbestos litigation bills, opinion is sharply divided, with industry supporting the legislation and labor and consumer advocates opposing it.
But the fund and the bill's mechanisms for screening claims are inadequate to deal with all legitimate claimants, according to Laura Welch, medical director of the Center to Protect Workers' Rights.
``Not all individuals with asbestos-related disease fall within the categories defined by (the FAIR Act),'' Ms. Welch testified at the June 4 hearing. The legislation contains no funding mechanisms to ensure payment of all valid future claims, and it excludes all claims for asbestos exposure that took place after Jan. 1, 1983, she noted.
Asbestos litigation was one of the major topics of the Aftermarket Legislative Summit last February and remains one of TIA's prime goals, according to Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs. Asbestos litigation has already bankrupted several aftermarket brake suppliers.
``This legislation will ensure that those who are really sick will get the funds they need, as opposed to those involved in frivolous litigation,'' Ms. MacDicken said.