Asbestos litigation is threatening to bankrupt California's small businesses while doing virtually nothing for sick victims of asbestos-related diseases.by Jack M. Stewart
Jan. 24, 2006
An estimated 8,400 companies have been sued, and asbestos litigation has already bankrupted at least 75 companies. It’s clear the system is broken. If Congress fails to act soon, asbestos litigation will continue to spiral out of control and bankrupt companies – many of which had nothing to do with asbestos production or manufacturing.
Small businesses are especially susceptible, because they don't have the resources to fight off asbestos lawsuits. And many of these small businesses never even produced, used or sold asbestos-containing products – they are simply the trial attorneys’ latest target, because so many of the companies that did manufacture asbestos have gone under.
Early this year, the Senate will have a chance to put an end to this national legal and economic crisis by passing the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act.
Senator Dianne Feinstein has already provided crucial support for California small businesses by supporting the bill’s passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now California’s small business owners and their employees are counting on Senators Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to support this legislation on the Senate floor.
The current system is rife with fraud, and must be overhauled.
Many trial lawyers file claims for people who aren't even impaired. A recent court case in Texas revealed that unscrupulous trial lawyers have medical doctors in their pockets who "find” evidence of asbestos disease in nearly every X-ray they examine. The federal judge hearing the case characterized these claims as "manufactured for money."
This case is not unique: a recent study by RAND found that nearly 90% of the asbestos claims filed are submitted on behalf of unimpaired plaintiffs.
It’s obvious that the current situation isn’t good for anybody except trial lawyers and a handful of ethically-compromised doctors. By placing unimpaired people in the clogged system, trial lawyers are just making it harder for truly sick victims to get the just compensation they deserve.
Equally frustrating, are the erratic judgments reached in different districts.
Since verdicts and awards vary by state, many trial lawyers game the system by picking districts known for massive awards. This means a small company in California could face a lawsuit in Illinois.
The FAIR Act would fix these problems by taking asbestos claims outside of the tort system, essentially taking power away from trial attorneys. Small businesses would no longer be targeted by overreaching trial lawyers. And most importantly, the FAIR Act will ensure that truly sick victims will receive speedy compensation.
Victims and small businesses can't afford to wait much longer for the system to be reformed. I urge Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to support the FAIR Act when it comes to the Senate floor this year.