Democrats Want Talks on Asbestos Bill; Criticize Current Version

Insurance and Asbestos Companies Short Changing Asbestos Victims

WASHINGTON, D.C.-November 3, 2003-Democrats called the latest agreement between asbestos companies and insurers concerning the Hatch asbestos bill, S.B. 1125, "inadequate". Nevertheless, they asked for bipartisan talks to resolve differences on how best to compensate asbestos victims.

The industry proposal would provide a $114 billion trust fund for asbestos victims, and raise compensation levels in some asbestos disease categories. However, the Democrats commented that it "does not reflect input from victims of asbestos exposure." They listed these problems with S.B. 1125 and the industry agreement:

  • Inadequate funding levels. Contribution amounts fail to cover the costs of expected asbestos disease claims. The proposal removes up to $35 billion of contingent funding, which may result in an insolvent asbestos trust fund.
  • Inadequate claim values. The dollar amount provided for each type of asbestos disease is inadequate.
  • Flawed administrative system. There is no assurance that claimants will receive damage awards for their asbestos diseases in a timely, efficient manner.
  • Additional unresolved issues. The industry position does not address numerous unresolved issues including the disposition of pending asbestos claims, the exclusion from the asbestos trust fund benefits of certain employees covered by the Federal Employee Liability Act (FELA), and the need for asbestos disease screening for high-risk workers.

Although calling for further discussion, the Democrats expressed great concern about the current funding amount proposed by industry. "We note that you have stated that this level of funding is a 'final offer,' and therefore not likely to be negotiated," the Democrats' letter to Senator Frist said. "Given the concerns that we have consistently raised regarding fair compensation and the overall funding, such a position would make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach agreement on this important issue."

Organized labor has also criticized the funding level proposed by asbestos companies and insurers as "grossly inadequate." See "Labor Leader Denounces Latest Asbestos Agreement."