Choking on Asbestos

Letters from October 3, 2002

Choking on Asbestos

Courthouse parade: Our country's economic recovery is being shaken by yet another generation of asbestos litigation ("Enough to Make You Sick," September 26). Over the years, dozens of companies have been forced to file for bankruptcy, erasing thousands of jobs. Yet the courthouse parade shows no signs of letting up. And why would personal injury lawyers stop now when millions more in legal fees can still be won?

Never mind the fact that a recently released study shows that 90 percent of asbestos plaintiffs show no signs of illness. Now the truly injured have yet another problem--the personal injury trial lawyers. Their questionable claims clog our court dockets and siphon away available award money (into their own pockets, I might add) from those who are legitimately sick or injured.

Those who want to reform the asbestos litigation system have suggested moving the sick to the front of the courthouse line.

But with personal injury trial lawyers contributing millions of dollars directly--and indirectly--into campaign coffers at both the state and federal level, the passage of asbestos lawsuit reform will remain an uphill battle.

Ruben S. Martin
East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse
Kilgore

Parasites: I agree with the conclusions reached by author Thomas Korosec regarding the grossly broken asbestos litigation system.

I attended last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on this truly national crisis and found it to be an important development to those of us concerned about the impact of this quagmire upon truly sick victims, innocent small businesses, our economy and its workforce.

A report our organization submitted to the committee, "The Asbestos Threat," concluded that unless Congress takes action, asbestos litigation is on a path that will seriously undermine U.S. economic viability, along with the engine that drives it--small business.

With many of the traditional defendants, namely asbestos manufacturers, forced into bankruptcy, eyes have now turned to the thousands of small businesses that at one time were considered peripheral defendants at best. These small companies, many with fewer than 100 employees, never manufactured asbestos, but have now been targeted in these suits--many are forced to close their doors.

If Congress is serious about restoring America's economy, it must begin by addressing this parasitic condition that is draining precious resources from an already fragile business sector. In the process they will also help to restore fairness to sick victims of asbestos exposure and true justice to our legal system.

Karen Kerrigan
Chairman, Small Business Survival Committee
Washington, D.C.

Good lawyers and good people: In Tom Korosec's article on asbestos litigation, the author used selective quotation and punctuation changes to inaccurately imply that I left Baron & Budd because of the type of asbestos cases they handled. I neither said nor implied this in our interview, and it is not true. Although he correctly reported that I chose to limit my practice to asbestos cancer cases after I left Baron & Budd, and I believed the non-malignant claims were declining in quality in the late 1990s, I never connected those feelings to my departure from the firm during my conversation with Mr. Korosec.

Although this may be an innocent mistake by Mr. Korosec, it left me with the disturbing impression that my comments were being "spun" to further the Observer's adversarial editorial agenda against Fred Baron. Because of past articles in your paper about Baron & Budd that I believed were unfair, I was reluctant to speak with Mr. Korosec about this story in the first place. Sadly, the impressions he left about our interview justified my initial reluctance.

The reality is that Fred Baron and the lawyers at Baron & Budd are good lawyers and good people who do a great job representing their clients. We have a principled disagreement over the allocation of limited resources available to compensate asbestos victims. Because there is not enough to go around, I believe the lion's share should go to people who are really sick. He just as strongly believes that you shouldn't change the system to start drawing arbitrary lines about who gets the right to trial by jury. We will both continue to publicly advocate our positions, and I hope we can do so in a professional manner.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on asbestos litigation in Washington, D.C., on September 25, Senator Orrin Hatch called upon Mr. Baron to sit down with our group and work together to craft a solution to the asbestos litigation crisis. Articles like yours make that all the more difficult.

Peter A. Kraus
DallasEditor's note: Mr. Kraus was quoted accurately and in context from a tape-recorded interview. Mr. Kraus, in fact, volunteered his criticisms about Baron & Budd's selection of clients. We stand by our story.

 
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