The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies has released a comment on the Senate’s failure to invoke cloture on the pending asbestos litigation reform bill, S. 2290, which would have allowed floor consideration of legislation to reform the asbestos litigation system. (See IJ Website April 20, 23)
The NAMIC’s bulletin noted that “the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, lacked the votes necessary to formally take up the bill—a bill that would protect the rights of those with asbestos-related injuries and preserve American business and the economy.”
“We appreciate Majority Leader Frist’s efforts to move this legislation,” stated David Winston, NAMIC senior vice president, federal affairs. “It is vitally important to get compensation to asbestos victims and the inability to advance the bill in the Senate will deny them expedited recovery.”
While many insurers and consumer groups oppose the bill (for different reasons) NAMIC noted that asbestos claims “are inundating the United States courts at an alarming rate. To date, the number of asbestos liability claims filed in the U.S. is over 700,000. Recent statistics show that 100,000 new asbestos claims were filed in 2003, which was more than triple the amount just two years before. With tens of thousands of new claims filed each year, legal experts expect that the total number of lawsuits could eventually exceed 2½ million.”
It also cited estimates which have indicated that asbestos related claims could “ultimately cost the U.S. economy over $200 billion.”
Another major concern is the broadened scope of potential and actual defendants in these lawsuits. The NAMIC said that “companies with only peripheral involvement with asbestos” are now facing liabilities.
The NAMIC also noted that “another reason for the large amount of asbestos claims is due to the increase in claims by those plaintiffs who are not truly impaired or injured. Today, courts now allow people to sue even though they exhibit no signs of physical injuries or sickness.”
“Settlements and payments to these plaintiffs quickly deplete resources and threaten the ability to adequately compensate those who are truly sick,” Winston noted.
“There are people that have been physically injured or have died from exposure to asbestos, and the legal system should fairly and adequately compensate these innocent victims,” said the NAMIC. “However, today’s system instead targets and punishes those companies who had only peripheral or no involvement with asbestos-containing materials, and it allows some individuals to sue and obtain compensation when they are not injured.”
The bulletin held out some hope that a compromise package could be reached, noting that there had been an exchange of letters between Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Negotiations on the bill are expected to continue for another week to see if outstanding differences can be resolved.