As a flood of asbestos suits drives companies into bankruptcy protection and clogs U.S. courts, the nation's largest legal group is set to decide whether to back federal legislation clamping down on claims.
The possibility of such a move by the American Bar Assn. is drawing the wrath of asbestos injury victims and labor groups who are planning picketing and a news conference today, one day before the ABA's policymaking body votes on the measure. The ABA is holding its midyear meeting in Seattle.
If the ABA's House of Delegates approves the proposal that calls for legislation limiting certain asbestos claims, it would be an unusual move for the group that has generally opposed federal preemption of state civil laws, including those that apply to dangerous product cases.
The proposal specifically seeks to limit the spiraling claims for nonmalignant lung tissue injuries that plaintiffs allege are caused by asbestos exposure. Studies show that these noncancerous claims are the source of the current wave of litigation that began about two years ago.
The claims have driven more than 20 otherwise financially viable companies into bankruptcy protection in the last two years. Studies predict no letup.
Indeed, a September report by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice said up to 2.4 million more claims could be filed in the years ahead, costing businesses as much as $210 billion.