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Advocates Call Asbestos Bill a "Bad Deal" for Victims

Asbestos was used extensively in construction, shipbuilding and steel mills. (Joey Gannon/Flickr)
Asbestos was used extensively in construction, shipbuilding and steel mills. (Joey Gannon/Flickr)
January 25, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A bill affecting compensation claims by Pennsylvanians suffering from asbestos-related diseases is scheduled for a key committee vote in the state Legislature.

Asbestos has been known for decades to cause diseases like mesothelioma, a kind of cancer. Victims of industrial exposures are still fighting for compensation through lawsuits. Sponsors of House Bill 1428 claim the bill would increase transparency and fairness in the litigation process. But Larry Cohan, an attorney with the firm Anapol Weiss who has represented many victims, says it would keep some from ever seeing a dime.

"The way the bill is written, no living mesothelioma victim will ever survive long enough to have their day in court," says Cohan. "The bill virtually guarantees extensive delays."

According to the Environmental Working Group, more than 14,000 Pennsylvanians have died of asbestos-related diseases since 1999, the third-highest death rate in the country.

Lawsuits have forced many asbestos companies into bankruptcy and trusts have been formed to compensate victims. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which crafted the model for HB 1428, says it would preserve the resources of those trusts for deserving claimants. Cohan disagrees.

"This will cost the trusts millions, if not billions, ultimately of dollars," says Cohan. "So, there will not be a preservation for victims, there will be a loss."

Asbestos-related diseases may be latent for up to 50 years after exposure, and most victims die within one or or two years of diagnosis.

According to Cohan, there's no need for new asbestos legislation in Pennsylvania, because cases are moving through the courts quickly and efficiently now.

"This bill is nothing more than an effort by the insurance industry and the asbestos manufacturers to reduce the amounts that they pay out to victims, and to substantially delay the time for payout," says Cohan.

Similar legislation has been introduced in about a dozen other states.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA