Don’t Let Hatch and Frist Revive Flawed Asbestos Bill

Those With Asbestos Diseases Will Not Receive Adequate Compensation Under S.B. 2290

WASHINGTON, D.C.-April 13, 2004-Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Bill Frist (R-TN) have introduced yet another bill to compensate asbestos victims through a national trust fund and deprive them of their day in court. S.B. 2290 has even less funding than the last bill, S.B. 1125, and many asbestos victims would receive nothing. They could wait years for compensation, and all pending settlements, verdicts on appeal, and bankruptcy awards would be wiped out.

The current proposal of $123 billion for the asbestos trust fund is still being negotiated. The sum is $30 billion below the amount approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year under S.B. 1125. It is also a far cry from the $275 billion that organized labor estimates is necessary to fairly compensate those with asbestos-related diseases (Billings Gazette, April 11, 2004). We believe that S.B. 2290 was written by the asbestos industry and its insurers, for the industry and its insurers. The amount of money for the trust fund is the amount the asbestos companies and the insurers want to pay, not the amount needed to compensate victims for their injuries.

Like its predecessor bill, S.B. 2290 assigns dollar values to different categories of asbestos diseases ranging from asbestosis to the cancer mesothelioma. Sadly, these amounts are not enough to cover the medical expenses, financial losses, and suffering of asbestos victims and their families. Although Sen. Frist has agreed to increased compensation for asbestosis patients, the amounts for those with other diseases remain about the same as before. Also, despite the proposed increase, the compensation levels for all categories are still historically lower than what is available through the court system, particularly for lung cancer victims. For example, compensation to an asbestos lung cancer victim with at least 15 weighted years exposure could be as little as $25,000, an amount that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls a "a cruel joke." "I cannot support a bill that gives inadequate compensation to victims," he said. "I will not adjust fair award values into some discounted amount just to make the final tally come within a pre-determined, artificial limit. That is not fair." Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) backed up Sen. Leahy's position, and vowed to fight the proposed version of S.B. 2290.

The Senate is expected to begin debate on S.B. 2290 on April 19. We urge you to call or write your Senator with a message to vote NO on this bill, which hurts workers and bails out the asbestos industry. Encourage your family, neighbors and friends to do the same. We need a grass roots movement by everyone ever harmed by asbestos to let Congress and the press know they are fed up with catering to corporations and special interests.