It's a battle that has raged for decades and has the makings of a Hollywood plot: companies covering up the dangers of asbestos and deliberately exposing employees to a form of cancer in order to save their bottom line. In the 1970s, when the true dangers of asbestos finally became known, lawyers aimed for large settlements for the victims who had developed mesothelioma (a type of cancer) or other asbestos-related illnesses as a result of their exposure. As the suits poured in as of 2004 more than 600,000 had been filed so did the legislation. Bills over the past four decades have centered on two main asbestos-related issues: banning asbestos in the U.S. and creating a trust to pay the victims of asbestos-related illnesses.
Though numerous measures have been proposed, Congress could never quite agree. As court cases bankrupted at least 70 companies between the 1970s and early 2000s, Republicans argued for some form of corporate protection. Companies worried they could face lawsuits indefinitely, as asbestos-related illnesses can take up to 30 years to develop. To that end, Senate Republicans, led by Senator Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) (above, right), authored the fairness in asbestos injury resolution act of 2005. The $124 billion bill would have created a compensation fund for victims, while simultaneously preventing them from suing companies that paid into the fund even if the fund ran out. While Senate Democrats supported some of the provisions such as a U.S. ban on asbestos pushed by Washington Senator Patty Murray since 2002 they said the measure favored the asbestos companies and insurers instead of the victims. The legislation failed to garner enough support for a full Senate vote.
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