Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Burns takes aim at FAIR

| January 19, 2006 11:00 PM

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns has notified Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he would not support the "Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005" unless the bill is changed from its current language, which excludes many Libby residents.

In a letter dated Dec. 15, attorney Roger Sullivan, whose Kalispell firm McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan and McGarvey represents around 800 Libby asbestos victims, asked Burns to oppose the bill in its current form because it does not contain the diffusion capacity test (DLCO) commonly associated with many Libby residents exposed to tremolite asbestos. In his letter, Sullivan indicated that the lack of this standard "disqualifies 40 percent of the Libby victims who would otherwise qualify for immediate compensation."

"Many Libby residents have been under the impression that legislation specific to Libby meets their needs, but that simply isn't true," Burns said.

The legislation, as introduced, contained the DLCO provision, but it was subsequently removed during a Judiciary Committee markup of the bill.

On Wednesday, Burns provided language to Specter's office that would include the DLCO standard, and the Montana senator said he will continue to fight for its inclusion on the Senate floor. The asbestos bill is expected to be considered by the Senate in February. Burns said he will not support the legislation in any form unless the provision is restored.

The FAIR bill is designed to relieve corporations of asbestos-related liabilities, which has forced numerous companies into bankruptcy. The act establishes a trust fund, paid for by the asbestos companies and their insurers, to compensate individuals diagnosed with asbestos-related disease.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus worked with Specter to develop a "Libby fix" to ensure adequate compensation for people exposed to the deadly amphibole asbestos that contaminated the vermiculite formerly mined and processed in the Libby area. Baucus has pledged to kill the bill if the Libby fix is not included in the final version.

Under the Libby fix:

l Libby claimants are exempted from the exposure criteria in the bill - they just have to establish that they lived, worked or played within a 20-mile radius of Libby for any 12-month period prior to Dec. 31, 2004.

l Libby claimants are exempted from the bill's medical criteria; the bill establishes special medical criteria applicable only to Libby claimants.

l Libby claimants can choose to have their claims referred to an expert physicians' panel, which will utilize the special medical criteria developed for Libby claimants to ensure that they are treated fairly.

l If the Libby claimants comply with the Libby-specific medical criteria, they will receive a Level 4 award, or $400,000, essentially establishing a floor of compensation of $400,000 for sick Libby claimants.