Thursday, February 02, 2023
21.0°F

FAIR or unFAIR

| May 31, 2006 12:00 AM

FAIR, the mammoth Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, is back on the U.S. Senate floor.

The legislation has been on so many individuals' or groups' agendas for so long, I can't help wonder if it's not a badly written law that shouldn't pass. But it contains critical language that could significantly help Libby asbestos victims. That's why Senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns have worked so hard, and so well together, to try get the legislation passed.

The bill started seven years ago as bail-out for the companies being sued by asbestos victims. Even a Supreme Court justice said from the bench that something needed to be done to untangle the mess the asbestos liability lawsuits were making of the American courts.

The chances of passing a bill absolving the companies of responsibility without providing for the victims was nil so a trust was established as part of the bill. It is currently listed at $140 billion. I county myself among the doubters that this is enough money.

Insurance companies representing the companies being sued initially agreed to kick in funds toward this trust but in the past year they have expressed concerns that if the $140 billion is not enough, will they be asked to give again? Good question.

There's a block of people, groups and politicians out there who want the opportunity to let victimize Americans have their day in court. And there's some who believe many of the lawsuits against these asbestos companies are simply frivolous and deeper legal reforms are needed.

Supposedly, FAIR would weed fraudulent asbestos cases out of the system so that the truly sick can be compensated promptly and reliably. The law would make the act of filing a fraudulent claim a crime punishable by jail time, a fine, or both. Attempts to "falsify, conceal, or cover up" or "make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement" would be punishable by fines up to $10,000 and jail terms up to 10 years.

Closer to home, our two senators have crafted language we call the Libby provisions that ensures that Libby victims of tremolite asbestos qualify for money from the $140 billion asbestos trust. Previously, the medical criteria was written in such a way that they did not qualify.

A whole bunch of people in other states, and their senators, were crying foul over the Libby language because the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite that did so much damage here, was shipped to more than 300 other locations in the country. And those people aren't covered by the Libby provisions. Ironically, you have to wonder about the fairness of this since the same disease that is so widespread here is being discovered, for starters, in Minneapolis, New Jersey, Texas, Washington and several places in Canada.

My only concern with this legislation is there is no end in sight in terms of asbestos victims. After all, asbestos is still legal in the United States. — Roger Morris