THE ASBESTOS CRISIS: BY THE NUMBERS by Jim Nickel and Bud Courson The numbers are startling. The numbers show it is spreading fast. The numbers tell the story of a crisis not connected to the truly sick. The numbers paint a picture of pain that is across the board and in every corner of our country. The numbers demonstrate that the costs are rising and things will get worse. We’re not talking about a new health related disease spreading across our country. We are talking about asbestos litigation and its crippling effect on the truly needy and our country’s economic well-being. Let’s be clear: Asbestos related illnesses are serious and devastating. Persons who have been exposed to asbestos and show clear signs of asbestos related illnesses deserve speedy and full access to our court system. If successful in that arena, they deserve just and complete compensation for their pain and suffering. Unfortunately, the numbers on asbestos litigation illustrate a process gone overwhelm- ingly awry. It has become an expensive process robbing potential real asbestos victims, wrecking retirement plans, accelerating bankruptcies, destroying small businesses and the numbers show that it is only getting worse. The litigation net continues to spread as the number of defendants is up to 8,400 from last year’s 6,000. Many think only manufacturers of asbestos are sued. Not so. New defendant companies include industries such as food and beverage, textiles, paper and glass. Claims from workers in non-traditional industries rose 107 percent from 1999 to 2000, and 71 percent from 2000 to 2001. At least one company in nearly every U.S. industry is now involved in asbestos related litigation. The number of asbestos related bankruptcies is accelerating and they are everywhere. 67 companies have gone bankrupt as a result of asbestos liabilities. During the first 10 months of 2002, 15 companies facing significant asbestos related liabilities filed for bankruptcy. 47 states now have at least one facility affected by asbestos-related bankruptcy and as many as 60,000 jobs have been lost. The eventual job loss, according to a recent RAND Institute, could reach as high as 423,000 jobs. Individual workers are also feeling the pain of this litigation crisis. Workers at bankrupt firms have seen their 401(k)s drop by an average of 25 percent. Each displaced worker at a bankrupt firm will lose $25,000 to $50,000 in wages over his or her career because of asbestos litigation related bankruptcy. Studies show that these losses amount to a 10 percent cut in Social Security pay for retired workers. The most devastating numbers show that this outrageously expensive crisis is not tied to the people who are truly sick. The number of mesothelioma cases has stayed at about 2,000 per year for the past decade. However, claims from people who do not have cancer make up 89 percent of the claims total. And, nonmalignant cases get 65 percent of the compensation awards, compared to 17 percent for the mesothelioma cases and 18 percent for other cancers. The numbers are clear and succinct: They add up to a problem that is begging for a just and common sense solution. The Los Angeles Times predicted that “the economic toll of asbestos could run as high as $200 billion, higher than estimates for all Superfund sites combined, Hurricane Andrew or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” The United States Supreme Court on two different occasions directly called on lawmakers to legislate a solution to the largest litigation problem facing our country. A common sense and compassionate solution must start with a simple proposition: The truly sick from asbestos exposure should have full and timely access to our courts. And the only way to accomplish this goal is to provide medical criteria to make that determination. By making such a determination, we can stem the tide of unimpaired claims that are not only clogging up our courts and wrecking our economy, but we also preserve a system and economic foundation for the truly sick in the future to win rightful claims. Providing for fair and exhaustive medical criteria for asbestos related litigants to pursue their claims is that common sense solution. Efforts are underway in Washington to fashion legislation to accomplish these goals. Meanwhile, House Bill 1401 and Senate Bill 853 are bills currently being considered by the Louisiana Legislature. These bills would provide for medical criteria for asbestos related litigation in Louisiana. Contact your lawmakers and ask them to a resolution to the asbestos litigation crisis. For more information on how you can join our coalition, contact us at 225-346-6900 or visit us at www.commonsensenow.net.
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