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Michigan Legislature Considers Asbestos Litigation Reform, Insurer Group Says

April 27, 2006 - The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America says that the Michigan Legislature is considering litigation reform regarding asbestos claims.

According to Chicago-based PCI, Michigan has looked at the efforts of other states such as Georgia, Florida and Texas that have worked to cut down on frivolous asbestos lawsuits and tried to prevent companies that did not produce asbestos from being sued into bankruptcy. With an eye to other states' actions, the Michigan House and Senate held hearings this week on the issue. Senate Bill 1123 received a second hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and House Bill 5851 had its first hearing before the House Tort Reform Committee.

Both bills establish reasonable medical standards for asbestos and silicosis claims necessary to verify these illnesses; they place no additional burden on mesothelioma victims and suspend the statute of limitations, preserving the right of claimants to sue should they become ill.

This bill also allows each asbestos case to be tried on its own merits, not as part of a "bundle" of claims that may include a few truly sick claimants and dozens of unimpaired claimants.

The number of new asbestos lawsuits filed has increased dramatically, PCI says. Since 1988, more lawsuits alleging asbestos related disease have filled state courts. In Texas, it is estimated that up to 90 percent of the cases are filed by people who are not impaired.

"This situation drains resources that would be available to individuals who are truly sick, clogs the courts and can bankrupt defendants," said David Golden, director of commercial lines for PCI.

"We are seeing substantial movement in legislatures around the country," said Golden. "This week alone, there is a bill moving out of committee in Tennessee. There was a hearing in Missouri and the committee chair determined that a subcommittee be formed to come up with a bill to push at the beginning of next session. A bill passed both houses of the Kansas Legislature, but needs to go to conference committee to decide its fate. There is additional legislation pending in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina."

"These bills provide a fair and reasonable approach to asbestos litigation," said Golden. "They prioritize the ability of people who are actually sick from asbestos exposure to seek compensation; while preserving the rights of other workers should they eventually become sick from asbestos or silica exposure."

PCI identifies itself as a national trade association that is composed of more than 1,000 member companies, representing the broadest cross-section of insurers of any national trade association. PCI members write over $184 billion in annual premium, 40.7 percent of the nation's property/casualty insurance.

Source: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

Asbestos battle is backed by High Court

Former dock workers have won the right to sue the Government for compensation for asbestos-related illnesses after a ruling in cases regarding two Lancashire men.

The Department of Trade and Industry was held responsible in a High Court ruling for the health and safety of workers at docks throughout England and Wales in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr Justice Silber, sitting in London, said labour boards at the ports, which organised the dockers' work, were not entitled to pass on all responsibility to the shipping companies that carried the asbestos cargoes.

His ruling – which will be the subject of an appeal – was given in cases brought by Winifred Rice, of Ormskirk, whose husband Edward, 67, died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in 2000, and Robert Thompson, 65, of Scarisbrick, near Southport, who still suffers from a disabling asbestos-related illness.

Mrs Rice said: "The last thing Edward said before he died was that I had to go on with his case.

"All we wanted was for the dock board to admit it should have protected him."

Mr Thompson said: "The dock labour board put us in a pen like cattle, we were picked out and sent to unload the asbestos from the ships.

"If we refused to go we were sacked. The asbestos was floating around everywhere. The dock labour board must have known they were sending us into danger."

Lawyers acting for the DTI, which now has responsibility for the former dock labour boards, argued that the boards were not employers.

They hired and arranged labour for shipping and stevedoring companies and there was a rough and ready casual labour system involving workers .

Mr Justice Silber said: "It seems to me there are compelling reasons why this should be heard because it does raise issues of some importance."

Lung cancer 'chemo' test breakthrough

By Deborah Condon

10/08/2006 - Scientists have developed a test that can predict which patients with early-stage lung cancer will need chemotherapy to live and which patients can avoid this type of treatment.

The test - the Lung Metagene Predictor - is capable of scanning thousands of genes. This allows the scientists to identify patterns of gene activity in individual tumours, which indicate that a patient is likely to suffer a recurrence of the disease. Recurrent tumours are often fatal, therefore identifying at-risk patients is critical if they are to be properly treated.

According to the developers, who are based at the Duke University Medical Centre in the US, the test has the potential to save many lives by recommending chemotherapy for patients who are currently advised against it.

A major clinical trial of the test is now set to take place within the next six months. Patients with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common and fatal type of the disease, will receive the test and its results will determine their treatment.

"Our new test predicted with up to 90% accuracy which early-stage lung cancer patients would suffer a recurrence of their cancer and which patients would not. We now have a tool which can be used to move these high-risk patients from the 'no chemotherapy' group into the aggressive treatment group", explained lead researchers, Dr Anil Potti.

Theoretically, the test can be applied to any cancer. However the Duke team focused its efforts on lung cancer because of the low survival rate associated with the disease.

The scientists said that currently, chemotherapy is generally only prescribed to lung cancer patients with relatively large and aggressive tumours. Early-stage patients - those with small, stationary tumours - are considered at low risk of recurrence. Therefore they are offered surgery, not chemotherapy. However according to Dr Potti, one-third or more of patients who appear to be low risk will experience a recurrent tumour.

"Until now, there has simply been no way to identify the 30-40% of early-stage lung cancer patients who would experience a recurrence. Now, with our test, we can say with confidence that we can identify this group of patients so they can be treated accordingly", he said.

Details of these findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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