Talks on Frist/Hatch Asbestos Bill End Without Agreement

Defendants and Insurers Refusing to Take Responsibility for Exposing Workers to Asbestos

WASHINGTON, D.C.—May 14, 2004—Senate leaders Bill Frist (R–TN) and Tom Daschle (D–SD) ended talks last week without coming to an agreement about creating a national trust fund for those injured by asbestos (Sacramento Bee, May 8, 2004; Miami Herald, May 7, 2004). Retired federal appeals court judge, Edward Becker, presided over the meeting, which also included asbestos defendants, insurers, and labor officials.

The groups disagreed about the number of potential asbestos claims and the amount of funds necessary to compensate asbestos victims. Democrats and organized labor said that the proposed amount of $124 billion for an asbestos trust was too low. They predicted that the fund would run out of money, leaving many asbestos victims with no options.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL–CIO, phrased the labor organization's position in this way: "The AFL–CIO remains committed to seeking fair compensation for asbestos victims. The hundreds of thousands of workers and other victims who have been injured, suffered or died from disabling asbestos diseases deserve no less" (Press Release, May 7, AFL–CIO). Asbestos defendants and insurers, however, sought to limit the amount of payments, and would not move much beyond the $124 billion mark, according to news sources.

S.B. 2290 Would Harm Asbestos Victims, Bail Out Asbestos Companies

Known as the Frist/Hatch asbestos bill, S.B. 2290 was originally labeled S.B. 1125. It would deprive asbestos victims of their day in court, while forcing them to seek compensation through a national asbestos trust fund. The fund would assign dollar values to different categories of asbestos diseases ranging from asbestosis to the cancer mesothelioma. However, these amounts are much less than what has been available through the court system and may not be enough to cover the medical expenses, financial losses, and suffering of asbestos victims. S.B. 2290 also would create a windfall for asbestos–affiliated companies who stand to gain billions because the bill wipes out current pending asbestos settlements.

Prior to the failed negotiations last week between Sens. Frist and Daschle, Sen. Frist had unsuccessfully tried to bring S.B. 2290 to a vote before the Senate. Despite these two defeats for S.B. 2290, the battle against the bill and similar legislation is not yet over. Sen. Frist vows to move an asbestos bill forward, perhaps trying further negotiations later on in the year.