In towns and cities throughout the United States, asbestos lawsuits are increasingly prolific as individuals exposed to asbestos twenty and thirty years ago are today developing and dying from mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare and extremely lethal form of cancer, in which malignant cells are found in the protective sac covering most of the bodys internal organs. Mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, takes up to three decades to strike its victims. Those with the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles, or have been exposed to asbestos dust and fiber in other ways.
Today, a growing number of mesothelioma lawsuits have succeeded in recovering hundreds of millions in compensation for the tens of thousands of mesothelioma victims. Compensation is paid by the companies that make these asbestos products, and enables victims to cover their medical expenses and to be compensated for their pain and suffering.
A current center of concern for asbestos victims is New Orleans. In the post-Katrina era, New Orleans and the entire state of Louisiana is undergoing a boom in construction a business infamous for its use of asbestos products. Post-storm rehabilitations of homes, the related large-scale demolitions, and even just the ubiquitous roofing jobs currently underway are exposing thousands of people to asbestos. Despite these dangers, however, Congress is considering a Bill that would prevent someone who becomes ill with cancer as a result of post-Katrina asbestos exposure from getting financial relief.
The introduction of the Bill is being motivated by calls for tort reform among asbestos-related industries. Financially crippled by increasingly high rewards to asbestos victims, these industries want a cap on their liability. They cite a recent asbestos lawsuit in Louisiana, in which homeowners who purchased asbestos-contaminated fill dirt sued the contractor who sold them the soil, as well as the oil company where the dirt had been removed. Although none of the plaintiffs have yet become sick, a jury awarded them compensatory and punitive damages due to their fear of harm (rather than actual harm). The verdict was upheld by a Louisiana appeals court, which ruled that any exposure to a harmful substance, no matter how slight, justifies a lawsuit.
The new Bill, set for debate by Congress in February, would halt asbestos lawsuits. The Bill is seeking to protect companies with asbestos liability from further lawsuits by paying into a government administered trust fund, which would screen claimants through established medical criteria. Victims would be awarded compensation based on the severity of their illness. The Bill specifically states that the fund would not cover victims of environmental and neighborhood exposure, with the prime example being post-Katrina victims in New Orleans and across Louisiana. The Bill is widely opposed by the medical community, as well as by labor unions and citizens rights activists, particularly in the state of Louisiana.