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Senate Panel Sets Asbestos Fund Criteria

June 25, 2003|From Associated Press

Senators moved closer Tuesday to creating a multibillion-dollar national trust fund for people with asbestos-related illnesses by determining medical criteria for eligible victims of cancer and other diseases.

A vital question remains unanswered, however: How much money would be paid from the $108-billion fund for each condition. That issue must be resolved before the legislation can get the bipartisan support it needs to pass the Senate.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said he hoped to have panel members in agreement on all issues by Thursday, the committee's last scheduled meeting before Congress' one-week Independence Day vacation.

Senators are trying to put the fund together to make payments over 25 years to people with asbestos-related illnesses. In exchange for the fund, businesses' liability for asbestos sicknesses would end.

Lawmakers say the fund is needed because asbestos liability is running companies out of business.

The Rand Institute for Civil Justice said in a study last year that more than 60 companies have sought bankruptcy protection because of more than 600,000 claims now in courts.

Insurance companies would put in $45 billion and companies that have been sued would pay an additional $45 billion. The rest of the money would come from smaller companies, existing asbestos trusts and interest on the fund.

Hatch said he expects the fund to start paying out within a year of enactment.

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