Is the Hyde Bill, aka the Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act, fair?
Efforts to control asbestos lawsuits have been around since the 1970s, but the most important one—the Hyde Bill, the Fairness is Asbestos Compensation Act, or H.R. 3905—was introduced in 1998, went through different incarnations, and is currently on hold. The Hyde Bill itself never passed, but Representative Hyde's 11 points survived and remain a part of the ongoing debate.
The Hyde Bill, introduced by the late Republican House Representative Henry Hyde, had two components: one, to impose stricter rules about asbestos in the workplace and asbestos use in general, and two, to control asbestos litigation. (http://www.ehow.com/about_6494968_asbestos-compensation-act.html)
What the government decides about the future of asbestos litigation is vitally important to the growing number of exposed Americans with mesothelioma, asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, and other illnesses.
Although the most recent bill about asbestos litigation, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005, reintroduced in 2006, is on hold, Weitz & Luxenberg is aware that this issue has the potential to affect millions, and would like to provide some important information about the Hyde Bill.
The Hyde Bill's goal for asbestos compensation, and the Hyde Bill's 11 points
Mr. Hyde introduced H.R. 3905 as “a bill [t]o establish legal standards and procedures for the fair, prompt, inexpensive, and efficient resolution of personal injury claims arising out of asbestos exposure, and for other purposes.” (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-105hr3905ih/pdf/BILLS-105hr3905ih.pdf)
This is a statement anyone could agree with, on either side of an asbestos litigation: fair, prompt, inexpensive and efficient legal standards are desirable in any situation. The bill goes on to lay out Mr. Hyde's eleven findings about the state of asbestos compensation as of 1998:
- Asbestos personal injury litigation is unfair and inefficient....
- Asbestos litigation has already led to the bankruptcy of more than 15 companies....
- The ... volume of asbestos cases is straining State and Federal courts...
- Asbestos litigation has resulted in arbitrary verdicts, with individuals receiving widely varying recoveries...
- ...The legal, medical, and scientific issues have been repeatedly tried and retried in courts for many years.
- Currently, statutes of limitation can force claimants to bring premature lawsuits in order to avoid losing their claim. ...
- Litigation has not been able to provide compensation to claimants swiftly. ...
- ...Less than 50% of the total cost of asbestos litigation actually goes to compensate claimants. ...
- In many courts, the vast majority of pending asbestos claims are filed by individuals who suffer no present asbestos-related impairment. ...
- Punitive damages also divert the resources of defendants from compensating impaired claimants. ...
- Mass consolidations only serve to magnify the irrationality of a litigation system that awards massive amounts to the unimpaired while threatening the ability of seriously ill people to obtain compensation in the future.“
11 counterpoints to the Hyde Bill
- Asbestos personal injury litigation is fair. These cases are decided by a judge, occasionally by a judge and jury.
- Bankruptcy is often a survival tactic for businesses, and it often leads to the company's reorganization or rebirth under a new name. Companies have survived, and will continue to survive, the process of bankruptcy.
- Though the volume of asbestos litigation cases may be straining the courts, much of what asbestos lawyers do for their clients is out of court settlements. You do not have to go to trial to receive compensation.
- Asbestos litigation has resulted in a variety of verdicts and settlements, and that is because these are the verdicts judges and juries give. Every case is different, just as every client's situation is slightly different.
- The legal, medical, and scientific facts about asbestos have been proved. But trials no longer seek to establish those facts. Asbestos exposure trials seek compensation for the client, and previously proven facts can only help the client's case.
- Asbestos diseases are progressive, and take years to develop. Clients seek compensation for the dangers they were put in, and the costs to their health.
- Litigation is not as swift as filing a claim or obtaining an out of court settlement, but all three options can provide compensation more swiftly than a nonexistent fund, subject to nonexistent processes.
- Some clients may receive less than 50% of their compensation, but most firms work on a contingency fee of roughly one third of the compensation the client is awarded or receives.
- Asbestos diseases take years to manifest. And the actions of some do not define the majority.
- Whether it is by punitive damages or a government regulated system, claimants are receiving compensation.
- Mass consolidations are a separate issue from Mr. Hyde's objection to claimants with nonfatal asbestos diseases seeking compensation.
The Hyde Bill: you be the judge
It is ultimately up to you whether you want to seek compensation for your asbestos illness or not. What is troubling about the Hyde Bill and its successors is that these bills, if passed, would limit asbestos exposure victims' range of choices for compensation.
If you are suffering an asbestos disease and want to explore your legal options, call Weitz & Luxenberg or fill out a form to today to receive a free legal consultation. You have options, and it costs nothing to find out more about them.
Frank, Ted. “Making the Fair Act Fair.” American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Liability Outlook, March 2006. Web. 24 March 2011.
Jeanty, Jacquelyn. “Fairness in Asbestos Compensation.” eHow.com. eHow, 8 June 2010. Web. 24 March 2011.
------. “Asbestos Compensation Act.” eHow.com. eHow, 10 May 2010. Web. 24 March 2011.
United States. Cong. Senate. Fairness in Asbestos Compensation Act of 1998. 105th Cong., 2nd sess. HR 3905. Washington: GPO, 1998. Web. 24 March 2011.