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
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...
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