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Asbestos trust fund hurts victims
January 30, 2005 - I would like to comment on the article written by Lisa Rickard on January 17, 2005, which comes from a perspective that the victims in the asbestos cases are the corporations and the insurers.
This inference then leads to the statement that thousands of people are losing their jobs, doctors are being forced out of business (relevance?), and shareholder values are being decimated. The true victims are and always have been the thousands that were exposed to asbestos and are now trying to get rightful and due compensation.
Obviously there are several members of Congress that cannot see the forest for the trees. Senator Mike DeWine stated last year, and I quote, Perhaps the most important is the impact this has on jobs. Never mind the people that are suffering, let's worry about big industry and their personnel.
These companies were very well aware as far back as the 1930s and '40s that asbestos was extremely harmful and yet chose to do nothing about it. Now, we are suppose to feel sorry for them?
Getting down to specifics, the Trust Fund bill that Senator Specter is pushing is going to be funded and approved by the industry and insurers. The hyperbole that abounds is that a multitude of companies has gone bankrupt. Lets examine that a little closer.
Federal-Mogul, still in business. W.R. Grace, still in business and showing profits in essentially every quarter of 2004. U.S. Gypsum, a $3 billion dollar Fortune 500 company.
Owens-Corning, still in business. Johns-Manville, still in business. Eagle-Picher, $166.8 million in sales the first quarter of 2004. Armstrong, more than $3 billion in sales in 2002.
PPG, 2004 fourth quarter income of $183 million or $1.06 a share. This, as compared to fourth quarter 2003, net income of $122 million or 71 cents a share. For all of 2004, PPG recorded a net income of $683 million or $3.95 a share.
Does it sound like these companies have been hurt by asbestos claims?
Along with this is the fact that many companies would go from owing billions of dollars in settlements to a fraction of that amount under a Trust Fund bill. Halliburton would go from owing $4.2 billion to only paying $25 million a year. Honeywell would gain $3.6 billion by only having to pay $25 million a year instead of a $2 billion dollar settlement.
Asbestos is a public health crisis, not a bankruptcy crisis.
There are other reasons that the Trust Fund bill is inadequate. The medical data it contains is incorrect, outdated, and incomplete, and there are unacceptable delays for compensation. From time of diagnosis, mesothelioma victims have from 8-18 months. My brother made it seven months.
Also, the funding requested is inadequate. There is no provision for research, education, prevention or outreach. There is no opt out clause for victims and nothing defined about how the system will work if the funding runs out. This relates back to unacceptable delays of the victim trying to once again get back into the tort system.
It has been figured that some victims may have to wait six-to-eight years for compensation. Again, this is completely unacceptable.
Ms. Rickard infers in her article that lawsuit abuse needs to come to an end. I couldnt agree more.
The answer is to fix the tort system, not bail it and the companies out by establishing a Trust Fund and effectively denying victims their most basic civil rights.
I would like to invite Ms. Rickard and other interested parties to visit the following websites to get a fresh, realistic perspective on asbestos and mesothelioma:
Grand Junction, Colo.
Malaysian union vows to sue Hardie
Kimina Lyall, Southeast Asia correspondent
January 31, 2005 - MALAYSIA'S union leaders have vowed to take building products giant James Hardie Industries to court, preferably in Australia, to win compensation for Malaysian workers likely to have contracted asbestos-related diseases.
Prava Karan, the legal officer with the Non-metallic Mineral Product Employees Union, vowed to ensure Hardie executives did not run away from their obligations to their former Malaysian workers.
"They entered the industry here knowing the health risk to the workers. They need to pay," he said after being briefed on Hardie's decision to pay out more than $1.5 billion to Australian victims.
The decision to pursue Hardie, which has the support of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress, adds to pressure on Hardie executives, who have yet to have their Australian compensation proposal approved by shareholders.
But it is unlikely Hardie will face any court case soon, as Malaysia does not test for asbestosis or mesothelioma.
This mirrors the experience in Indonesia, where Hardie operated an asbestos plant until 1985, and where tests designed to detect asbestos-related diseases are not conducted and victims are instead treated for generic cancer.
Mr Prava said yesterday his union would start contacting all former employees in an effort to identify possible victims.
Hardie established UAC Berhad with Malaysian partners in 1965 but gradually diluted its stake in the company until it sold out completely in 1987.
It has since said it is no longer liable for any claims lodged against the Malaysian company.
But Malaysian Trade Union Congress president Syed Shahir bin Syed Mohamad said Hardie could avoid court action by taking a moral stand to support former employees.
"I think they should (pay). It doesn't matter whether workers are in Australia or in Malaysia or other parts of the world, they are responsible for them because it is the same product from the same company," Mr Syed said.
UAC Berhad general manager Tey Long Tuang said he did not know whether his company, now controlled by Malaysian holding company Boustead, had agreed to take on Hardie's legal liabilities.
Malaysian health advocates have for years lobbied for action on asbestos, and most companies, including UAC Berhad, have committed to phasing out its use.
Consumers Association of Penang research officer Mageswari Sangaralingam said years of activism had failed to convince health authorities to establish even a database of mesothelioma or asbestosis sufferers.
"The problem here is that the pick-up rate is very low," she said. "We are trying to lobby pathologists to improve their pick-up rate."
Jaya Balan, who has researched asbestos since he was approached by unions in the 1980s, says such a database is the first step in identifying past victims