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Summary of Hearings on Asbestos Legislation

(2-7-05)

  • February 2, 2005: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Asbestos: Mixed Dust and FELA Issues."

Senate Judiciary Committee
"Asbestos: Mixed Dust and FELA Issues"

February 2, 2005

Witnesses
Dr. Laura Welch, Medical Director, Center to Protect Worker Rights
Mr. Michael B. Martin, Partner, Maloney, Martin and Mitchell, L.L.P.
Dr. David Weill, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Sciences, Transplant Program University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Professor Lester Brickman, of Law Cardozo Law School of the Yeshiva University
Dr. Theodore Rodman, Retired Professor of Medicine,Temple University
Dr. Paul Epstein, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Chief, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Penn Medicine at Radnor
Mr. Paul R. Hoeferer, Vice President & General Counsel, BNSF Railway Co.
Mr. Donald F. Griffin, Director of Strategic Coordination and Research, BMWED Teamsters

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing February 2 to consider adding other mixed-dust claims to a draft $140 billion asbestos trust fund bill, sponsored by Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA). In particular, the panel sought to distinguish asbestosis from silicosis or other occupational lung diseases, and "the need for additional language in the legislation for these questions" according to one of the panelists. The hearing and the continuation of the bill's draft phase are in response to concerns voiced by Insurance and other Industry officials, who fear people suffering from asbestos-related health problems would take advantage of asbestos trust fund benefits while using the tort system to claim compensation for other mixed-dust related respiratory illness under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).

Controversy surfaced among Democrats, who voiced concern that adding provisions for silica and other mixed dust claims would considerably stall the bill. According to Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), "some special interests are trying to limit their liability on cases not related to asbestos through a last-minute, overly broad provision that could jeopardize the years of work spent developing a bipartisan asbestos trust fund."

Doctors testifying before the committee said that asbestosis and silicosis result from different sorts of exposure and that a patient would rarely suffer from both. "Silicosis is due to the formation of nodules in the lung, on pathology quite distinct from the scarring seen in asbestosis," said Laura Welch, Medical Director with the Center to Protect Workers' Rights.

Professor Lester Brickman called Silicosis "A legal, not medical epidemic," adding that "allowing claimants to obtain double recovery…will defeat the very purpose of the National Asbestos Compensation Program, which is to substitute a fair and efficient administrative compensation system for a tort system that is out of control."

Panelists recommended that plaintiffs claiming silica exposure must disclose previous asbestos claims or medical reports mentioning asbestosis. Senator Specter was open to all recommendations, expressing desire to seek a compromise and get the bill out of the committee as soon as possible.

-KCA

Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Hearing testimony.

Contributed by Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Semester Intern

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on February 7, 2005


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