Fifteen months after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 852 by a 98-1 vote to establish a $140 billion victims’ trust fund for asbestos exposure, the failed legislation sits in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
England Takes Action
But in England this spring, thousands of sufferers of asbestos-related diseases received good news. Five Law Lords overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that earlier had denied compensation to victims unable to prove a specific employer was responsible for their illness. Ann Alexander, an attorney with leading health litigator Alexander Harris, said “This ruling will change the lives of hundreds of victims who are suffering from this disease.”
Every year, 1,800 people die from mesothelioma in the United Kingdom. Up until this spring, asbestos sufferers only could file a claim against the state if they were exposed to asbestos on the job. But now, sufferers are eligible to file if they were exposed to asbestos from a relative, the environment, while self-employed or even if the source is untraceable.
U.S. Stagnant on Amending Laws
In the United States, Michigan Gov. John Engler had said in 2006 the Senate’s top priority was passage of the asbestos trust fund bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). S.852 is also known as the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act (FAIR).
“…Resolution of the asbestos litigation crisis is long overdue,” Engler said. “It has exacted a heavy toll on American business, particularly manufacturers, while making it difficult for deserving victims and their families to receive fair compensation.”
However, the American Trial Lawyers Association (an organization our Raleigh workers' compensation lawyer Brent Adams is a member of) has criticized FAIR, saying the $1 million cap on individual settlements falls short of what mesothelioma plaintiffs would receive in court. Critics also question the fund’s solvency. ATLA claims taxpayers would assume payment responsibility should monies from asbestos manufacturers and their insurers dwindle.
U. S. Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-CN), Joe Liebermann (D-CN) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) each has co-sponsored asbestos reform bills. “The Republicans know if the new legislation is an anti-trial-bar bill, it will fail.”
President Bush maintains asbestos claims clogs the courts. He said those suffering cancer who have legitimate claims are deprived settlements because of the litigation backlog. In 2005, he addressed Macomb Community College in Michigan, saying such litigation bankrupted companies, depriving workers of jobs.
Months later, Congress passed the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) of 2005, which shifted class-action lawsuits involving parties from different state to federal courts.
Corporations Scoff at Asbestos Claims
Big Business applauded CAFA, saying class-action lawsuits enriched trial lawyers, who often filed them in jurisdictions governed by sympathetic judges and juries. The new law grandfathers applicable cases.
“We spend about $80 billion on asbestos litigation and that could end up being $200 billion,” Bush said in 2005. “These lawsuits bankrupted companies, which affects workers. Those with no major medical impairment make up the majority of claims while those who are truly sick are denied their day in court.”
New EPA Brochure Offers Tips
In April of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a publication, Current Best Practices for Preventing Asbestos Exposure among Brake and Clutch Repair Workers, which guides automotive professionals and home mechanics on preventing exposure to brake and clutch dust that may contain asbestos fibers.
What does this mean for asbestos claims in North Carolina?
Laws are changing. It is becoming increasingly difficult for average citizens to monitor and understand how pending legislation may affect their asbestos claims. At the very least, a consultation with a Raleigh workers' compensation lawyer regarding asbestos claims can help you understand your rights and responsibilities and help you determine if you should retain legal counsel for your case.