25 Aug 2003 It is Time for the People’s Media — Talk Radio, the Internet, Blogs and Editorial Pages — to Force a Permanent Solution to the Asbestos Crisis; Congress Must Act Before Special Interest Lobbying Scuttles Plan to Compensate the Sick While Ending Bankruptcies and Job Losses
Efforts to reform the decades-long asbestos scandal are stalled in the U.S. Senate and it’s time for the “people’s media” — talk radio, the Internet, blogs and editorial pages — to force Congress to justly end this $200-$300 billion dollar life-and-death issue, says Amy Ridenour, President of the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“It has been four years since the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that Congressional action would be necessary to a permanent solution to the scandalous asbestos crisis, yet only now is such a solution even under consideration — that in the form of Senator Orrin Hatch’s Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act,” said Ridenour. “And now even that opportunity may be lost because the same trial lawyers who contributed to the crisis by looting the legal system have successfully lobbied the Senate Judiciary Committee into inserting provisions into the bill that may prevent its final passage.”
“One such ‘poison pill,'” added Ridenour, “is a dangerous provision added in the Judiciary Committee that increases a $108 billion trust fund to be paid for by corporations by $45 billion while allowing a continuation of the current ruinous litigation against those same corporations. It is difficult to imagine a better way to throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work — and to dry up the source of funds sick people may need.”
“Fortunately,” said Ridenour, “several Senators, including Charles Grassley (R-IA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Larry Craig (R-ID) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are joining Senator Hatch in stepping up to the plate. With their leadership and that of other Senators who put the cause of justice over special interests, perhaps there is still a chance for an equitable solution from this Congress. A solution that puts the interests of the victims and the Americans people ahead of trial lawyer profits.”
In the view of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a permanent, fair solution would achieve the following:
* End financial incentives for lawyers to troll for plaintiffs so aggressively that many healthy people have sued, resulting in deserving victims dying while waiting for their turn in clogged courts.
* End abusive profiteering by lawyers that has resulted in 60 percent of the awards in asbestos lawsuits going to lawyers and court costs, not to plaintiffs.
* End a system in which 65 percent of the money that does reach plaintiffs goes to people who don’t have a serious asbestos-related disease or disability.
* Put finality on a decades-long crisis that has already bankrupted 60 companies and thrown tens of thousands out of work, and which may, if no reform is forthcoming, ultimately put literally millions of Americans out of work.
* Establish a privately-funded trust fund of a reasonable size, administered by independent, government-appointed judges, to make payments to genuine victims based on their level of medical impairment, with the most money going to those with the greatest impairments.
* Eliminate litigation outside the trust fund, making it possible for businesses to budget for their asbestos-related payouts, thereby eliminating most (or all) bankruptcies and job losses, and protecting the availability of the funds needed for the trust fund.
“Congress is close to the real reform needed to solve this crisis and make sure that truly deserving victims get the help they need. But Congress may not have the political will to stand up to the trial lawyer lobby,” said Ridenour. “Americans should speak up on behalf of reform, and behalf of the work of Senators Hatch, Grassley, Kyl, Sessions, Craig and Cornyn. And the people’s media — talk radio, the Internet, blogs and editorial pages — should enter the fray. As soon as possible.”
For more information on the asbestos crisis, including op-eds by Amy Ridenour available for reprint (free of charge), links to statements by the Senators and other research materials, please visit http://www.nationalcenter.org/Asbestos.html, or phone David Almasi at 202-507-6398 x106.