Saturday, April 23, 2005

AFL-CIO Opposes Specter Asbestos Comp Bill

The AFL-CIO has announced that it is opposing the Specter Asbestos Compensation Bill. The labor federation had originally offered support for a draft of the bill if certain changes were made.

After reviewing an earlier draft of the Specter bill, the AFL-CIO pointed out numerous provisions that would unfairly deny compensation to victims or result in unnecessary obstacles or delays in the processing of many types of asbestos claims. For example, the AFL-CIO strongly opposed the elimination of coverage for 40,000 asbestos-related lung cancers (the so-called level VIIs) without permitting these individuals to document asbestos exposure through CT scans. Although changes were made to permit use of CT scans for one category of claims, the bill as introduced still would result in denial of compensation to an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 victims of asbestos-related lung cancer, even though many would qualify if permitted to use appropriate diagnostic technology.

Similarly, S. 852 would prevent 60,000 to 80,000 individuals with varying degrees of illness from access to any forum for as long as two years in the event that the trust fund is not operational. The bill also includes provisions establishing medical criteria for lawsuits by individuals who have both asbestos-related disease and silica-related disease that will bar many of them from seeking redress in the courts for their silica-related injury, while at the same time limiting their compensation from the asbestos fund to $25,000.

As drafted, the bill fails to establish clear and workable criteria to trigger the statute of limitations for bringing claims for specific disease levels, particularly for victims of non-malignant diseases that get progressively worse. It is also unclear what circumstances will trigger the sunset of the Fund, which claims will be allowed to go forward in court if the Fund sunsets, and what statutes of limitation will apply. The victims of asbestos disease deserve to have these issues clearly and squarely addressed. We cannot support legislation that leaves such critically important questions to be resolved through litigation in the courts, which may further delay justice for thousands of asbestos victims.