Arlen Specter Plans to Advance Flawed Asbestos Legislation

Workers With Asbestos Diseases Target of Windfall Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC - December 10, 2004 -Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has met with industry leaders, lobbyists, and lawyers to announce his plan to introduce an asbestos bill by January 4, hold Senate Committee meetings the following week, and have the bill ready to put on the Senate floor by the week of Jan. 29 (National Underwriter, December 7, 2004). Based on former S.B. 2290, Sen. Specter's bill would create a national trust fund for asbestos victims, but deprive them of the right to a jury trial.

Labor, industry, Republicans, and Democrats have been wrangling about asbestos legislation for nearly two years. They have disagreed about the size of an asbestos trust fund, who it should cover, and whether it is a necessary improvement to the court system. Both Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) and soon-to-be former Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle (D-SD), finally agreed on the amount of $140 billion for the trust, which would be financed by insurers and asbestos-affiliated companies. The Senate Judiciary Committee had suggested about $153 billion, Sen. Daschle had originally proposed $145 billion, and labor leaders sought much higher amounts.

Margaret Seminario, the health and safety director of the AFL-CIO, recently expressed concern that the proposed fund would be inadequate to meet the needs of those withasbestos-related diseases and could increase their suffering. "We're not going to be party to something that is set up to fail," she said, referring to the size of the asbestos trust fund and the probability that it would run out before asbestos victims are fully compensated (Sacramento Bee, December 5, 2004).

Proposed Asbestos Legislation Would Harm Workers and Their Families

As proposed, the trust fund would assign dollar values to different categories of asbestos-related diseases ranging from asbestosis to the cancer mesothelioma. These amounts are much less than what has been available through the court system and may not be enough to cover the medical expenses, financial losses, and suffering of asbestos victims. Also, those who are on the verge of having their cases resolved would be forced to begin the process of going through an unwieldy bureaucracy in order to obtain compensation.

At Brayton Purcell, we have worked hard against S.B. 2290 and similar asbestos bills. These bills harm asbestos victims and their families and are little more than bailouts for asbestos-affiliated companies. Our asbestos attorneys continue to fight against such flawed asbestos bills, and to keep you informed of any new legislative developments.