Proposed Legislation Would Harm Asbestos Victims

Asbestos Legislation SB 413 Would Limit Victims' Legal Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C.-April 4, 2003-New legislation would limit the rights of many asbestos victims to file lawsuits for their injuries. SB 413, known as the Asbestos Claims Criteria & Compensation Act of 2003, would require those exposed to asbestos to meet certain rigid medical criteria before making a claim to receive damages for an asbestos-related disease. Although lawsuits for mesothelioma and other asbestos cancers could go forward, those for other serious, but non-cancerous asbestos conditions such asbestosis might not qualify. SB 413 and similar legislation is being pushed by asbestos companies and their insurers.

Albert Miller, M.D., a prominent pulmonary specialist, recently sent a letter to the American Bar Association (ABA), which supports medical criteria for asbestos victims similar to that contained in SB 413. He expressed his dismay with the proposal, pointing out that it will bar many deserving claims of asbestosis and pleural scarring.

Various other doctors who treat occupational and pulmonary diseases have opposed legislating a set medical criteria for asbestos lawsuits (see Letter from Medical Specialists on Asbestos-Related Disease). Prior proposals were called "arbitrary, illogical, and without foundation" by these medical practitioners.

The current bill, SB 413, was discussed before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Melvin McCandless, an asbestosis victim, testified that he is considered permanently disabled by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. He is always short of breath and cannot do any exertion for even a short period of time. "I am here today because my lawyer told me that if Senate Bill 413 passes, neither I nor my wife nor most of our friends would be able to recover in a court of law for asbestosis. My pulmonary function test is 'within the range of normal' and I would therefore be excluded."

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) expressed his concern about all asbestos victims as well as the people of Libby, Montana, a town whose citizens have developed severe asbestos diseases due to exposure to pollution from an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine. "I am concerned that in a rush to address a perceived crisis in our courts, Congress may do an injustice to hundreds or thousands of injured people by arbitrarily denying those people the ability to protect their rights," he said. "...asbestos litigation reform relying on the very strict medical criteria proposed would have the effect of treating all people in the same manner, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of when, where and how they were exposed, and in many cases, regardless of what kind of injury they have suffered-it would narrowly define an acceptable injury. It would also impose significant costs on claimants before they have any assurance that they can even file a claim for compensation."