Republicans Attack Rights of US Asbestos Victims
In the US, the New Year began with a concerted political effort, led by President Bush, to push through legislative measures to reform the tort system and curtail asbestos litigation. At a high-profile rally in Michigan on January 7, 2005, Bush focused on the need to alter the asbestos claims handling process which is bankrupting and/or financially damaging major corporations and small businesses. The President supported a congressional proposal to create a privately-funded, publicly administered trust to disbar "frivolous and junk" lawsuits being brought by uninjured asbestos plaintiffs. Bush estimated that the annual $240 billion legal bill incurred by these actions was impacting negatively on the country's competitive position in the global economy.
Senator Patty Murray, author of the Ban Asbestos in America Act, isn't impressed by the President's myopic approach to the US asbestos tragedy; commenting on the January 7th speech, she said:
"I am deeply troubled that the President spoke of ending liability for companies that have used asbestos without addressing the need to ban this deadly substance... this Administration failed to protect American citizens by banning this known carcinogen in thousands of household products... the President let down victims today by failing to put a premium on establishing a fair and appropriate national medical criteria to adequately compensate victims with severe injuries in an efficient manner."
American trade unions, such as the AFL-CIO and legal groups, such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, have registered their criticism of the Administration's recent pronouncements saying respectively:
Contrary to comments at today's White House event, the crisis we are facing is not just a litigation crisis, it's a disease crisis the AFL-CIO has consistently maintained that an adequately funded no fault system was the best way to make sure that asbestos victims would be fairly compensated The victims of asbestos disease deserve the same commitment from both the President and corporate leaders, many of whom are now making demands that will make it impossible to reach agreement on a compromise bill.
President Bush is again on the nation's longest running road show attacking the legal rights of millions of Americans, this time in Michigan talking about asbestos The President should call for an immediate ban on the importation and use of asbestos as Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has proposed. Sadly, we doubt the President will meet with any asbestos victims. Rather, he'll once again meet with the asbestos and insurance industries which are fighting as hard as they can to avoid being held responsible for this national health epidemic.
The consumer group, Public Citizen's Congress Watch, and a new asbestos victims' pressure group, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), have also weighed into the debate with the Director of the former body accusing the President of holding a one-sided conversation on this issue and a representative of the later body demanding to be heard:
It is unacceptable for meetings to be held with industry, the companies and all of the corporate interests who would benefit from the asbestos industry bailout bill, and not those who suffer as a result of asbestos exposure.
Linda Reinstein, Executive Director and Cofounder of the ADAO, urges all those concerned to act saying: We have a tough fight, little time and are out-numbered in money and power. Only the 'voice of the victims can stop this speedy train. As discussion of Senator Specter's draft of the asbestos trust fund bill1 will begin in the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 11 at 9:30 a.m., it is vital that action is taken immediately. Private individuals are asked to sign the ADAO on-line petition2; written endorsement of the ADAO's campaign by asbestos victims, family members, trade unionists and doctors would be invaluable3.
January 10, 2005
1 The text of Specter's draft bill can be viewed online: http://www.nycosh.org/workplace_hazards/2005SenateAsbestosDraft.pdf