Hartford Courant: The personal and lobbyists’ role in pending national legislation
The Harford Courant has an excellent article covering the personal side of things as well as the heavy lobbying taking place regarding the pending asbestos legislation bottled up in the U.S. Senate.
The personal side as reported by the Courant:
Frank Amendola gasps for air periodically as he speaks because of the toll asbestos-related cancer has taken on his lungs.
The New Haven man said he was poisoned on the job – construction work on power plants – and wants his day in court. Amendola worries that a plan, now bottled up in the Senate, to end asbestos lawsuits and handle claims through an industry-financed trust fund won’t work, making it tougher for him to get paid what he thinks he deserves and needs.
A business person’s side:
David Paddock fears asbestos litigation could ruin his family’s Danbury business, Preferred Utilities Manufacturing Corp. He said the company, a maker of boiler components, never knowingly used asbestos, although it probably was in parts bought from others.
Preferred Utilities faces thousands of legal claims and increasing insurance costs as plaintiffs’ lawyers have gone after a wider range of companies because the asbestos makers are all bankrupt. Paddock worries that, in an unpredictable legal system, his 65-person company could be wiped out by a big verdict.
The Courant reports that although both Amendola and Paddock have a personal stake in the congressional fight over how to limit asbestos lawsuits, powerful lobbying interests – with billions of dollars at stake – have used them and others like them to give their arguments a compelling, human face.
Thousands of Connecticut residents were sickened by asbestos over the years in factories, construction sites and shipyards. And because the worst cancers can take decades to show up, people exposed long ago are still getting sick today.
The legislation would create a fund which would cap damages for asbestos victims. Opponents of the legislation say the maximum $124 billion fund is not enough to compensate all those who will become ill or are already suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
You should take a look at the lengthy article (free but req’ing registration) but here’s a few excerpts (emphasis added) which scare the heck out of victims:
The defendant companies and insurers are eager to cap their liability, and are willing to guarantee a certain payout level in exchange. That would bring stability and finality to their obligations and allow them to move forward with less uncertainty.
But advocates for victims, led by the AFL-CIO, said the total that businesses and insurers had agreed to – as much as $124 billion in the latest version of the measure – was much too low to meet the expected demand. Lobbyists for the labor federation estimated the total needed to be closer to $153 billion.
Peg Seminario, health and safety director for the AFL-CIO, said the current bill shifts the long-term risk from businesses and insurers to victims. The union also voiced concerns about the viability of the fund in the early years because of the great demand and the level of payouts planned for certain illnesses.
"It would be a disaster for this thing to get passed, get set up and fail, especially for the victims," Seminario said.
It is unfortunate but issues of protecting the little guy’s rights usually fall along party lines. Republicans will be influenced by the big insurance and corporate money and their public relation’s companies spitting out that lawsuits are out of control. Democrats will be doing their best to protect victims’ rights to compensation with lobbying from trial lawyers and Unions.