Bill Seeks to Strip Michigan Asbestos Victims of Justice
Asbestos has devastated thousands of Michigan families, with nearly 7,900 residents dying from asbestos-triggered diseases between 1999 and 2013 alone. But a bill (HB 5456) pending before the state legislature would erect a series of difficult roadblocks that could delay or deny justice for current and future victims.
According to an analysis of federal data by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, the national average rate is 4.9 deaths out of every 100,000, with the statewide average rate for Michigan at 5.7 deaths out of every 100,000 caused by asbestos. Fully 25 counties the state have higher rates than both the national and state averages, including Presque Isle at 20.2, Dick...
According to an analysis of federal data by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, the national average rate is 4.9 deaths out of every 100,000, with the statewide average rate for Michigan at 5.7 deaths out of every 100,000 caused by asbestos.
Fully 25 counties the state have higher rates than both the national and state averages, including Presque Isle at 20.2, Dickinson at 18.4, Bay at 16.6, Marquette at 11.3, Midland at 10.3, Muskegon at 9.7 and Saginaw at 8.6.
Asbestos was once widely used in a number of industries, including the automobile industry. Another source of exposure is from construction, as well as the demolition and rehabilitation of homes and buildings built before the early 1970s.
As a population, veterans are disproportionately impacted by asbestos. While veterans make up just 8 percent of the U.S. population, they account for roughly 30 percent of Americans who contract mesothelioma – an extremely painful and always-fatal form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, stomach and other organs. Its only cause is asbestos. According to the latest census data, there are roughly 602,000 veterans living in Michigan.
A bill, HB 5456 sponsored by Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-District 97) would erect a series of roadblocks that could delay or deny compensation to Michigan asbestos victims and their families. The legislation would:
- Force asbestos victims to wait to file a lawsuit until their attorney has worked up trust claims that promise little or no meaningful recovery for a victim.
- Drastically alter procedural rules for asbestos cases to force courts to reduce judgments in favor of victims.
- Authorize defendant corporations to unilaterally delay trial repeatedly, so that victims could die before their day in court. Patients with mesothelioma usually die within months after diagnosis.
“This proposal is designed with one goal in mind: running out the clock on asbestos victims in Michigan so they die before their cases even make it to court,” said Alex Formuzis, VP for Strategic Campaigns at EWG Action Fund. “People who were unknowingly sickened by asbestos deserve justice, and the companies responsible for poisoning them should be held accountable.”
The concept of this one-sided legislation began at the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The group incubates and disseminates legislative proposals for use by state legislators.
ALEC is heavily funded by companies with major asbestos liability, including Koch Industries, Honeywell and 3M. Similar legislation is being considered or has already been enacted into law in a number of other states.
Asbestos can linger in the body for decades before illness strikes. Patients who develop asbestos- related diseases today were exposed a generation ago, when the asbestos industry was fully aware of the dangers, but failed to warn and protect industrial workers, construction laborers, military personnel, and others who were exposed on the job or by contact with exposed family members.
“Any legislation that could add further burdens or harm to those who suffer from asbestos disease should be seen as nothing short of an outrage by every resident of Michigan,” said Formuzis. “The elected leaders in Lansing should oppose this legislation that could cruelly and unfairly deny justice to many of their fellow citizens, including those who served our nation.”
About EWG Action Fund
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.