From: Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press
Published April 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Insurers Drop Backing for Asbestos Trust Fund, but Other Businesses Groups Renew Their Support

WASHINGTON — A group of insurance companies have rescinded their backing for Senate legislation that would end asbestos liability lawsuits in exchange for a victims trust fund, but other business groups moved quickly Tuesday to restate their support for a compromise trust fund bill.


Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the decision by a group of 15 insurers would not scuttle Senate attempts to find a bipartisan compromise.


"I am confident we will have a bill," Frist said.


The insurers, including Allstate, the Chubb Corp., and Nationwide, said Monday that they think the impasse over how the legislation will work could be "unfixable" and they are "skeptical that a trust fund can ultimately provide the certainty and finality all parties seek."


"For this reason, we respectfully suggest that efforts now be turned towards developing alternate legislation," the insurers said in a letter to the Senate.


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They are not the first to oppose the bill. Several major corporations, like Federal-Mogul Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., announced their opposition to the legislation in January.


Other business groups sent letters of support, urging senators to keep working on coming up with a trust fund. "There remains broad support in the business community for your efforts," said the Asbestos Alliance, a group of companies facing asbestos claims, in a Tuesday letter to the Senate.


The Senate has been stuck for years on how much money insurers and business groups should put into a trust fund.


Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was commonly used until the mid-1970s in insulation and fireproofing material. It has tiny fibers that can cause cancer and other ailments when inhaled, but the diseases often take decades to develop.


Senators say asbestos liability is driving companies out of business and leaving victims with little or no money for medical bills. A trust fund would speed money to those people and assure companies they would not be sued out of existence, supporters of the plan say.


In exchange for the fund, asbestos victims would give up their right to sue.


Source: Associated Press


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