I applaud Senator Bill Frist who recently announced that, "Asbestos reform will be the first major piece of legislation that we consider in late January when we return." That is great news for Americans like Mike Carter, owner of Monroe Rubber and Gasket Co. in Monroe, Louisiana, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003 of 75 asbestos lawsuits pending against his small company, which never manufactured the product. For many years, we have been operating in a system in which people who aren’t sick are demanding compensation from a pool of defendants that have had increasingly less to do with asbestos exposure. This has also marginalized real asbestos victims, whose cases have been compromised by the onslaught of lawyer driven claims that make up in volume what they lack in merit.
We can begin with the uncontroversial premise that great harm came to many people exposed to asbestos, particularly U.S. veterans, shipyard workers and other laborers. Working to fairly resolve asbestos issues requires doing something other than the status quo. In fact, Justice David Souter has written, “The elephantine mass of asbestos cases…defies customary judicial administration and calls for national legislation.” Opponents of the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act of 2005 are strong, well-financed and formidable, but following the lead of Senators Frist and Arlen Specter, Congress needs to see beyond this financial self interest and do what is right for truly sick victims and other bystanders who have been swept into the tidal wave of litigation, losing jobs and retirement savings in the process.
When one company declares bankruptcy, another one is found to fill its place in a pool of over one hundred defendants. For this reason, virtually every sector of our economy is represented in the extensive defendant list in asbestos lawsuits. Nontraditional defendants are now responsible for the majority of asbestos liability. Close to 80 companies have declared bankruptcy, creating a windfall in legal fees in the process and limiting the opportunities for Americans to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
The Trust fund proposed in the FAIR Act addresses these problems, but opponents are challenging the wisdom of the federal government addressing the issue. Here are some answers: