Few issues in U.S. politics have proved as elusive as asbestos liability reform. In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) struggled, and ultimately failed, to bring a bill to the Senate floor that would have established a $136 billion no-fault compensation fund for victims of asbestos exposure. And others have stumbled before him.
This year, the baton has been passed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Specter had hoped his bill would be introduced in January and establish a $140 billion trust fund. That deadline has passed. These struggles illustrate the complexity of the issue Congress has wrestled with during the past three decades.
In 1982, there were only 300 asbestos defendants. Currently, more than 8,400 companies—accounting for 85 percent of the nation's gross domestic product—find themselves the target of asbestos lawyers. U.S. companies have paid an estimated $70 billion to $80 billion for nearly 750,000 asbestos personal-injury claims. Furthermore, asbestos litigation has forced 75 major companies into bankruptcy, costing as many as 60,000 people their jobs.
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