Cancer Victims Speak Out Against Hatch/Frist Asbestos Bill

Workers With Asbestos Cancer Denied Access to Courts for Their Injuries

February 6, 2004 - "I got cancer from a habit I started at 14-working," said Chris Stoeckler, diagnosed with mesothelioma. Exposed to asbestos at his job as a mechanic, Stoeckler is now dying of mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive cancer that severely damages the lining of the lungs. The disease is almost always caused by asbestos exposure.

"Asbestos companies knew their products were deadly, but Congress wants to deny me my day in court, just to bail out asbestos companies," Stoeckler said. He urged senators to vote "No" on S.B. 1125, a bill that would replace the current asbestos litigation system with a limited national trust fund. It is sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist.

Other cancer victims are also speaking out against S.B. 1125. In Rhode Island, two local groups demonstrated against the bill. Charles Case, a Providence carpenter who had worked with asbestos-lined boilers, said that he had three types of cancer caused by his asbestos exposure (Providence Journal, January 18, 2004). In North Dakota, construction workers met to speak about illnesses caused by asbestos, and to lobby North Dakota senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad to vote against the bill (Bismarck Tribune, January 15, 2004).

Families of Colorado residents with asbestos diseases rallied at the state capital to protest S.B. 1125 limits. "These are people who fought wars, who paid taxes. Please make it right," said Steve Sanchez, whose father, Agapito, has mesothelioma. Another asbestos victim, Frank Irwin, spoke about his asbestosis, "It's very difficult. I have to stop and rest between flights of stairs. I rest several times during the day" (Rocky Mountain News, January 16, 2004).

These are just some examples of the groundswell of sentiment against S.B. 1125 by workers who developed asbestos diseases. As we have emphasized in the past, the problems with S.B. 1125 are many. The trust funding levels will not cover the cost of asbestos claims. The dollar amount set aside for each type of asbestos disease is inadequate to compensate for medical costs and pain and suffering. Also, the bill creates a new bureaucracy that will force many sick claimants to endure lengthy waits before receiving any damage awards for their asbestos diseases. In short, the bill does not provide fair and timely compensation to all victims of asbestos exposure.

Despite S.B. 1125's major flaws, Sen. Bill Frist believes that he can resurrect the bill through patchwork compromises. The Senate will most likely consider S.B. 1125 in late March. We urge you to call or write your senators and ask them to vote "No" on this harmful legislation.