"I first saw the asbestos issue back in 1984, more than 20 years ago, when then-Senator Gary Hart of Colorado brought in Johns-Manville. And this very tough issue has been very elusive for more than two decades, and it has mounted in problems, reaching a situation where we now have some 74 companies which have gone into bankruptcy, thousands of individuals who have been exposed to asbestos, with deadly diseases--mesothelioma and cancer--and who are not being compensated. And about two-thirds of the claims, oddly enough, are being filed by people who are unimpaired. The number of asbestos defendants has risen sharply from about 300 in the 1980s to more than 8,400 today, and most are users of the product. It spans some 85 percent of the U.S. economy. Some 60,000 workers have lost their jobs. Employees' retirement funds are said to have shrunken by some 25 percent. And beyond any question, the issue is one of catastrophic proportions."--Chairman Arlen Specter, at a January 11, 2005, Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing.
"We have tried to protect the ultimate goal of fair compensation to the victims. That is the lodestar of our efforts. This is the most lethal substance ever to be widely used in the workplace. Between 1940 and 1980, more than 27.5 million workers were exposed to asbestos on the job. Nearly 19 million of them had high exposure over long periods of time. We even know of family members who have suffered asbestos-related diseases just because they lived with the person, because they washed the clothes of loved ones. The economic harm caused by asbestos is real. The bankruptcies that resulted are a different kind of tragedy for everyone, for workers and retirees, for the shareholders, and for families who built these companies."--Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, at a April 26, 2005, Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing.
Each year, 10,000 victims will die of mesothelioma as a result of occupational asbestos exposure and tens of thousands of victims will suffer from lung conditions which make breathing so difficult that they cannot engage in the routine activities of daily life. Many have become unemployable due to their medical condition. These are the real victims of the asbestos nightmare and must be the first and foremost focus of our concern. And, because of the long latency period of these diseases, not only will the damage done by asbestos continue for decades but many of the exposed live in fear of a premature death due to asbestos-induced disease.
Not only do the victims of asbestos exposure continue to suffer, and their numbers to grow, but the businesses involved in the litigation, along with their employees and retirees, are suffering from the economic uncertainty created by this litigation. More than 70 companies have filed for bankruptcy because of their asbestos-related liabilities. As Senator Leahy observed at the Senate Committee's March 5, 2003, hearing on asbestos litigation: “These bankruptcies created a lose-lose situation. Asbestos victims deserving fair compensation do not receive it and bankrupt companies do not create new jobs nor invest in our economy.”
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