January 25, 2006
CFIF Urges All 100 Senators to Support the FAIR Act
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Many hard-working Americans have been victimized twice as a result of exposure to asbestos. First, they suffered the health consequences, and now, they are suffering under our legal system.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest failure of the current system is that real victims of asbestos exposure often do not live to see their day in court, thanks to the enormous number of frivolous and baseless claims clogging the nation's civil justice system. As the Supreme Court has twice opined, our state and federal courts simply can't handle the flood of claims that opportunistic plaintiffs' lawyers are pressing. And while asbestos victims are denied justice, those plaintiff's lawyers who claim to represent them are getting rich. In fact, reports suggest that of the $57 billion spent so far to settle asbestos claims, more than half has gone to lawyers and litigation costs instead of to the victims.
At the same time, asbestos litigation has forced dozens of companies ― many of which had little or nothing to do with asbestos ― into bankruptcy. As many as 60,000 jobs have been lost, with hundreds of thousands more now at risk. To be sure, there are more than 8,400 businesses facing asbestos litigation in court, many of them small businesses. According to a recent study by the RAND Institute, it is estimated that asbestos litigation could drain more than $200 billion from our economy, sapping much needed resources from research and development and making it harder for businesses to provide benefits to their employees.
For all of these reasons, now is the time for Congress to address the asbestos litigation crisis. The trust fund approach embraced by Senators Specter and Leahy in S.852, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act, is the best solution. It is vital to both asbestos victims and the businesses targeted by litigation that the Senate pass S.852 when it considers the legislation next month.
The merits of the trust fund approach far outweigh any perceived downsides. An asbestos compensation fund will provide swift, fair compensation and would ensure that claimants are genuine victims by imposing strict medical criteria. Funded by businesses and insurers, not taxpayers, the trust fund will be large enough to handle current and future complaints.
In addition, the trust fund approach ensures that the money goes to victims instead of enriching trial lawyers. Victims will apply directly for compensation, eliminating their need to hire an attorney. For claimants who do choose to hire a lawyer, attorney fees will be capped at five percent of the individual's claim.
Asbestos victims deserve justice, and they certainly shouldn't have to suffer twice. But today, that's exactly what is happening. There is no question that asbestos litigation has become a crisis. For Congress, the choice is simple: do nothing and leave asbestos claims in the courts where too many victims are denied justice and the only beneficiaries are trial lawyers. Or, instead, embrace the asbestos trust fund proposal and take a meaningful step toward restoring justice for victims and defendants. The Senate has the chance to do the latter when the FAIR Act is considered in February.
On behalf of the Center for Individual Freedom's more than 250,000 activists and supporters across the country, I strongly urge you to support the FAIR Act.
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