Specter pushing asbestos-claims bill that would create trust fund

Amid a continuing flood of lawsuits against the allegedly cancer-causing asbestos industry, the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), has drafted a bill to try to stem the flow. Specter’s legislation would establish a trust fund into which asbestos companies would pay billions of dollars to compensate victims; victims would be allowed to return to the courts if their claims remained unpaid. Past attempts to establish an asbestos victim trust fund, most recently in 2003, have failed, as asbestos-victims advocates maintain that the roughly $140 billion proposed is much too low, while asbestos manufacturers and their insurers argue it’s much too high. Industry also complains that a trust fund would likely not limit their liability, thus leaving them open to even more suits. The asbestos industry faced some 100,000 lawsuits in 2003 alone and, according to a study last year by the Rand Institute, has paid out approximately $70 billion for asbestos claims in the last 30 years.