02 May 2003 Statement of The National Center for Public Policy Research on Senator Orrin Hatch’s Asbestos Proposal
Conservative Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s decision to introduce a compromise solution to the multi-decade asbestos liability crisis is a positive, possibly breakthrough step.
Working with liberal Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and others, and giving labor unions a place at the table, Hatch has managed to broker a compromise that will have defendant corporations and insurance companies finance a $108 billion asbestos trust fund.
Lawsuits would end. Sick plaintiffs would get benefits without legal fees, lengthy court cases or the need to prove a single defendant caused their illness. A chest x-ray showing asbestos-related disease presented before an asbestos court will trigger compensation. And although corporations will fund the payouts, asbestos-related bankruptcies should cease, as companies will know the extent of their liabilities and be able to plan for them.
The asbestos liability crisis already has costs tens of thousands of Americans their jobs. If the litigation continues, millions more may do so. The Supreme Court has said that Congress must play a role in any master settlement, yet in the last Congress no bill to end the lawsuits was even introduced.
The Hatch proposal is likely to change as it is marked up in committee and considered by the full Senate. But, finally, there is momentum behind a solution to the asbestos crisis.