02 June 2003 00:00 [Source: ICB]Labour leaders are refusing to endorse a bill that would curb expensive asbestos litigation in the US and cap the seemingly limitless liability companies are exposed to.
The bill, which is due to be heard by the Senate's Judiciary Committee on 4 June, calls for a $108bn trust to be set up, funded by equal contributions from the insurance industry and participating businesses. All future claims would be processed by the government according to rigidly defined criteria.
Although the bill has been welcomed by business, it faces severe criticism from the US' chief labour organisation, the American Federation of Labour - Counsel of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), whose support is important in getting the bill passed.
Its president, John Sweeney, condemned the bill as weak, calling it 'merely a vehicle to relieve businesses and insurers of hundreds of billions of dollars of liability while significantly short-changing the asbestos victims of the fair compensation they are due'. However, he stopped short of closing the door on future negotiations and said the organisation remained 'committed' to finding a solution.
The major stumbling block is the size of the fund. The AFL-CIO is adamant it is too small and wants a guarantee the fund will not become exhausted. Supporters of the bill, including the American Chemistry Council, insist many more companies will face bankruptcy if a solution is not found quickly.
The bill proposes an initial contribution of $45bn each from insurers and businesses, capped at $5bn/year. The fund would remove much of the unpredictable nature of litigation and limit payments, thus removing the uncertainty industry faces over future asbestos claims.
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