- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

Striking a powerful blow for common sense, the American Bar Association last week broke with trial-lawyer advocacy groups and Big Labor to urge limits on who can sue claiming exposure to asbestos. The ABA's new position has been harshly attacked by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who assert that limitations on lawsuits will deprive seriously injured people of their day in court. This argument stands the truth on its head.
Asbestos, a mineral once widely used in insulation and fire-proofing materials, can indeed cause severe and even fatal health damage to individuals who receive prolonged exposure. The gravest problem today, however, is that a proliferation of lawsuits from people who suffered little or no actual harm from asbestos is inundating the legal system with frivolous claims and delaying compensation for those who have suffered from exposure.
At the ABA's national meeting in Seattle on Tuesday, supporters of asbestos litigation reform included Chicago personal-injury lawyer Terrence Lavin, who has many relatives who worked in the asbestos industry. "Members of the asbestos bar have made a mockery of our civil justice system and have inflicted financial ruin on corporate America by representing people with nothing more than an arguable finding on an x-ray," he said. The ABA plan, Mr. Lavin added, "is not tort reform. It's scandal reform."
Nathanial Jones, a former federal judge who heads the ABA's commission on asbestos litigation, said that many firms driven into bankruptcy by frivolous lawsuits would have been able to stay in business and assist seriously ill victims of asbestos poisoning.
The ABA plan sets medical standards for people who have been exposed to asbestos but do not have cancer. While those who do not have cancer would generally be barred from suing at the present time, they would be permitted to do so later if their conditions deteriorated.
Mounting evidence that the proliferation of asbestos lawsuits is threatening the viability of U.S. businesses and jeopardizing the retirement savings of their workers helped spur the ABA to take action. A study released in December by Sebago Associates, an economic consulting firm, found that, since 1998, 35 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection due to asbestos-related claims, compared to 26 during the previous 20 years.
The ABA is commended for supporting reform.

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