Madison County weighs in on asbestos trust fund

Ann Knef Jan. 19, 2005, 10:24am

Simmons: No comment

Hendler: "It's simple-minded"

Local reaction to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter's (R-Pa.) recent proposal to create a $140 billion fund to compensate asbestos victims and cap liability for the businesses that pay into the coffer, was mute.

Even though the proposal's impact on Madison County's asbestos docket would likely be substantial, area plaintiffs' and defense attorneys who were contacted chose "no comment."

John Simmons and Randall Bono, of the East Alton firm SimmonsCooper, renowned for its handling of asbestos litigation, both declined to weigh in on the proposal, as did attorney Brenda Baum of Burroughs, Hepler, Broom, MacDonald, Hebrank & True in Edwardsville.

In a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, Simmons indicated his firm would be diversifying and placing less emphasis on asbestos cases.

Scott Hendler, an Austin, Texas asbestos plaintiff's attorney who regularly files cases in Madison County, said the bailout proposal is not fair to victims.

“It is a simple minded approach to a complex problem,” Hendler said.

Recently Hendler garnered close to $4 million for his client Luke Lindau, an Arlington Heights man who suffers from the deadly disease, mesothelioma, in Madison County Circuit Court. He has one other case pending in Madison County.

“It is a disservice to people that have been victims of corporate misconduct," Hendler added. "(The proposal) would severely and unfairly limit compensation to victims.

“The last time I saw the bill, the mesothelioma victims would max out at around $1.2 million dollars, I believe. While that amount may be sufficient to a 65- or 70-year-old--and that is debatable--what about the 45-year-old who worked construction during the summer and has a wife and five children? Is $1.2 million going to be enough?”

According to the American Tort Reform Association, 30 percent of all asbestos cases in the nation are filed in Madison County Circuit Court. Asbestos litigation has forced many businesses across the country into bankruptcy.

Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is expected to introduce a bill next week that will compensate victims of asbestos illness while imposing finality to payouts.

According to a Reuters report, $140 billion is the most business interests will agree to, but about $9 billion less than labor representatives say is necessary to pay asbestos claims.

Specter indicated that if the fund runs dry, victims could return to court, contrary to the wishes of businesses who are lawsuit targets.

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