As if billion dollar no-bid contracts weren’t enough, Bush is trying to give Halliburton and other companies handouts by limiting asbestos claims. He claims that it’s going to hurt little companies. But eight Halliburton subsidiaries are just now coming out of bankruptcy, after being sued and being forced to file for bankruptcy partially because of asbestos claims. Proposed legislation would keep Halliburton and it’s companies in the black, while shifting the problem to the US.
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Bush Advocates Limiting Asbestos Cases
Sat Jan 8,10:23 AM ET
By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer
CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – President Bush (news – web sites) called Friday for federal curbs on asbestos lawsuits, which he said are driving businesses into bankruptcy and denying some victims swift compensation.
“It’s not fair to those who are getting sued, and it’s not fair for those who justly deserve compensation,” said Bush, appearing at a performing arts center just north of Detroit. “These asbestos suits have bankrupted a lot of companies, and that affects the workers here in Michigan and around the country.”
Inhalation of the tiny asbestos fibers can cause lung diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Lester Brickman, a Yeshiva University law professor selected by Bush to discuss the asbestos cases at the appearance, told the audience that more than 100,000 workers have died as a result of exposure to asbestos.
The American Trial Lawyers Association puts the figure at 300,000 and projects that a similar number will die over the next four decades. The group’s president said Bush was “attacking the legal rights of millions of Americans.”
Democrats in Congress argue that GOP legislation to create a trust fund for victims has not included enough money for victims and that Republicans are only trying to help their friends in the business and insurance communities by immunizing them from lawsuits.
Hundreds of thousands of people have sued companies that produced the insulating and fireproofing material.
The president said the cost of having courts process those claims could amount to $200 billion over time. He asked Congress to send him legislation that would represent a “national solution,” but he offered only the broad outlines of what he seeks, and he embraced no specific legislation.
“Most of the money isn’t going to those people who have been truly sick, it’s going to people who think they might be sick” — people who have “no major medical impairment,” Bush said.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that some workers exposed to asbestos on the job can collect monetary damages even if they do not yet have cancer and may never develop the disease. The fear of developing cancer is grounds enough to collect for workers who already have asbestosis, the high court ruled.
It can take years for symptoms of lung illnesses stemming from asbestos to occur. Bush did not define what he meant by “truly sick” or “major medical impairment.” Later, a senior administration official said Bush believes victims should be eligible for help “as soon as they become sick.”
Bush said the courts should “speed up the process for delivering justice to deserving victims.” He didn’t elaborate on how Congress should prod the judicial branch to act more quickly. The senior official said that limiting the right to sue to those who “become sick” would accelerate legal proceedings.
The trial lawyers association said Bush’s focus was misplaced.
“President Bush is again on the nation’s longest-running road show attacking the legal rights of millions of Americans, this time in Michigan talking about asbestos,” trial lawyers president Todd Smith said.
“We hope he takes the time to meet with some of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are sick and dying because the companies they worked for knowingly poisoned them with asbestos,” Smith said. “They could educate him with the truths about this deadly substance and the companies that lied and covered up about it.”
Some outside groups disputed Bush’s assertion that asbestos litigation was ruining businesses.
Many of the companies that filed for bankruptcy were reorganized, not liquidated, said the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based environmental research group that opposes Bush’s proposed changes.
Halliburton Co., once run by Vice President Dick Cheney (news – web sites), is an example, the group said. In December 2003, eight Halliburton subsidiaries affected by asbestos claims filed for bankruptcy protection. The companies and the plaintiffs reached a settlement valued at about $5 billion in cash and stock.
The company said earlier this month that its units are out of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and can operate their businesses without bankruptcy court supervision.
A Senate hearing is scheduled Tuesday for a bill being pushed by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (news – web sites). Specter said this week that Republicans will try for quick action on a measure that would end asbestos lawsuits in exchange for a trust fund to compensate victims.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said he too favored a national trust fund, but efforts over the years “have not included any contribution from the administration, which has never offered any specific legislation or provided any detailed guidance on its views of this important matter. I am hopeful that the president’s event today signals a change.”