S.B. 1125 Deprives Asbestos Victims of Due Process, Asbestos Claimants’ Committee Says

Inadequate Asbestos Claims Trust Fund Provided for Claimants by S.B. 1125

WASHINGTON, D.C.-August 15, 2003-The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2003, S.B. 1125, would deprive injured asbestos victims of due process, and should not be passed, according to a letter recently sent to Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) by the Official Asbestos Claimants' Committee of Western Mac Arthur. The Official Asbestos Claimants' Committee represents thousands of plaintiffs with asbestos claims against Western Mac Arthur (Western), a manufacturer of asbestos-containing insulation and roofing that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The letter points out that after 25 years, claimants against Western are only months from getting a resolution of their cases under current law. S.B. 1125 would deprive them of their rights by throwing out their settlements and forcing them to file new asbestos claims through a general asbestos trust fund that many believe is underfunded.

The asbestos claims against Western involve plaintiffs with the cancer mesothelioma as well as those with serious non-malignant diseases such as asbestosis. The law firms for the initial Committee members represent a total of 8,019 people. Of these, 6,504, or 81.2% reside in California.

The Western bankruptcy case is almost concluded under the federal bankruptcy statutes. The Committee calls it a successful end to a 25-year effort that would finally allow asbestos claimants to obtain adequate compensation for their injuries and debtors to identify and obtain insurance coverage to pay for these liabilities. "To pass a bill that in one moment would wipe out all these efforts is unfair to the citizens of this country, and especially to the voters in California," the Committee wrote in its letter to Senator Feinstein. "...Claimants against Western should be allowed to finalize their rights under existing law."

Asbestos Claims Would Be Inadequately Compensated

At Brayton Purcell, we also believe that asbestos victims would be harmed by S.B. 1125. Besides voiding existing settlements and promised damage awards from asbestos bankruptcy trusts, the bill provides a payment schedule that does not adequately cover the medical expenses, financial loss, and suffering of those who have been exposed to asbestos. In addition, it requires claimants to satisfy rigid medical criteria, while eliminating their right to a jury trial.