The Debate Over Asbestos Legislation
This year a growing legal crisis may affect you more than you could imagine. With proposed bills that would limit asbestos company liability and significantly reduce payouts, some worry that lawmakers who are in charge of advocating for everyday America may be pandering to special interests.
Prolonged asbestos exposure can lead to dangerous health conditions including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Every year 2500 to 3000 new cases are diagnosed every year with thousands more outside the United States as other countries have been slow to adopt asbestos bans (although asbestos is not completely outlawed in the United States and exists in many products manufactured today).
The conditions are frightening and for the most part treatment only prolongs a person's life by a short span. An indiscriminate killer set loose by the industrialized nations of the world.
So when someone is diagnosed what do we owe them? An apology for their terminal illness is simply not enough of a measure to compensate them for the pain their body, family, and spirit will have to end.
The problem that lawmakers are trying to address is the abundance of cases currently sitting dormant in our legal system. The case backlog is intense and often cases (if unsettled) take years before they go before the courts.
We have a duty to balance compensation and cases because if this system continues, the expected case filings over the next decade will create a standstill for legal action.
The problem with balancing is that each side will have to incur losses. The creation of a national fund is the best proposition but claimants have to adhere to guidelines that may eliminate legitimate cases (September 11th created intense exposure over short periods for example). The pool will receive less than if they made an individual claim but the victims will be able to enjoy their compensation before death.
Under current proposals though, that compromise over compensation would make the filing process futile. When looking at some recent settlements in the pool format, victims who would have received millions received in the range of low thousands.
So who benefits under current plans and recent settlements? Corporations.
Their civic duties should never be compromised by lackadaisical legislation that shifts some of the legal responsibilities from their shoulders.
It's a battle that is even pitting victims against one another which is exactly what corporations need because a divided opponent never wins.
Americans have now put that question to Congress however.
"The 'Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005' came to existence shortly after March of 2004 after Pres. Bush. proposed limits on asbestos related "junk" lawsuits at a speech in Detroit. The Act would establish a $ 140 billion trust fund to supplant litigation as a means to compensate victims of asbestos and limit liability. "- Asbestos and Mesothelioma Advocacy [http://mesotheliomainfo.bloggoing.com/2006/09/12/14]
The maximum award would be $ 750,000 but with an estimated 500,000 possible claims. The fund would quickly deteriorate and could not pay victims. ($ 375,000,000,000,000 would have been needed).
The bill is still being looked at by the Senate Judiciary Committee but as you can see it faces a tough fight for approval.
I am aware that many people see asbestos litigation as an avenue of junk lawsuits in the same vein as the "hot coffee" judgment to the woman at the drive through but these are real people with an incurable disease.
With only months before a round of major elections, try asking their candidates their position on the bill. Likely most of them would not know what it is you're talking about. However trial lawyer associations across America are the parties with the largest to gain or lose.
Corporate defense attorneys would lose significant billable hours for services rendered to corporations while plaintiffiff would have seen a loss because fund rulings would not necessarily require legal counsel.
So on something perceived as "out there" and insignificant, you can already see how it affects your government and possibly your neighbors.
Please get more information about asbestos exposure and related illnesses at Mesothelioma and Asbestos