Asbestos Trust Fund Called Wrong Solution to Serious Problem

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Advocates of limited government are lobbying against a proposed $140-billion asbestos trust fund intended to compensate Americans suffering from asbestos-related disease.

Former Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) - who now serves as co-chairman of FreedomWorks - said there's no doubt that asbestos litigation is out of control, but he called the proposed trust fund the wrong solution.

"Let's fix the underlying problem, not create a new government program funded by new taxes," Armey said in a statement.

FreedomWorks is launching a grassroots and media campaign, urging Congress to reject the asbestos trust fund and instead enact strict medical criteria to identify people who truly have been harmed by exposure to asbestos.

Sens. Arlen Specter, (R-Pa.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said their bill, introduced Tuesday, would "stem the rising tide of asbestos litigation cases clogging the nation's courts."

Sen. Leahy called the bill a "fair and efficient plan" that will "ensure adequate compensation to the thousands of victims of asbestos exposure, but that also will give due consideration to the industries and insurers that should, and will, provide that compensation."

Leahy admitted that portions of the bill won't please everyone involved with asbestos litigation, but he said the bill has the support of various labor unions, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Specter-Leahy bill would give mesothelioma victims a lump-sum payment of $1.1 million in return for giving up their right to sue. Nonsmokers with lung cancer would also receive $1.1 million and smokers with lung cancer would receive $600,000. Asbestosis victims would receive $850,000.

But FreedomWorks says the trust fund approach places a compulsory $140 billion levy on businesses - including many that are only remotely related to asbestos -- in order to create an enormous new government program to manage asbestos payouts.

The group also complains that billions of dollars in fund resources are set aside for trial lawyers rather than victims.

As an alternative to Specter-Leahy plan, FreedomWorks supports enacting strict medical criteria to provide "prompt and just compensation to the truly injured."

Beginning this week, FreedomWorks is calling its members in key states to generate 350 telephone calls a day in opposition to the trust fund. It also plans to run full-page newspaper ads entitled, "Another Government Black Hole," in The Washington Times, Roll Call, and The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that asbestos lawsuits have been a profitable industry for personal injury lawyers, with companies paying out an estimated $70 billion on some 730,000 claims so far - many of those claims dubious, critics say.

Around 70 companies have gone bankrupt as a result of the litigation, costing an estimated 60,000 Americans their jobs.

The problem will only get worse: total corporate asbestos liability is now expected to reach or exceed $200 billion, the Chamber said.

That because "massive enterprises have been established to recruit asbestos 'victims' to sue companies," the Chamber said on its website. The plaintiffs include people who show no signs of illness.

See Earlier Story:
Justice Dept Asked to Probe Doctors, Lawyers in Asbestos Cases (11 April 2005)

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