Friday, February 04, 2005

It's all frivolity

The other night, when President Bush said this in the State of the Union address:
Justice is distorted, and our economy is held back, by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims -- and I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year.

... I wonder if he was thinking of cases like this:
The Halliburton Co. will pay $30 million to about 120 families of people who were exposed to deadly asbestos while working in shipyards, construction sites and industrial plants in the Pacific Northwest or serving on Navy ships that were serviced here.

The amount, announced yesterday in Seattle, is part of a recent $4.3 billion national settlement to wrap up the Houston-based oil-services giant's liabilities for people who are ailing, have died -- or will die in the coming years -- because of asbestos exposure.

... Halliburton inherited a flood of asbestos and silica claims when it acquired Dresser Industries Inc. in 1998, during Dick Cheney's tenure at the helm of Halliburton before he became vice president. Most of the claims had been filed against Harbison-Walker Refractories Co., a Pittsburgh-based subsidiary of Dresser.

"Halliburton is pleased to have the matter of asbestos and silica litigation fully and finally resolved," company spokeswoman Beverly Scippa said yesterday. "The settlement will provide a permanent resolution to a difficult and complicated problem."

Nah. I'm sure instead he was thinking of "frivolous" cases like this one in Montana:
Asbestos from a now-closed vermiculite mine on a mountain near Libby has killed 192 people and left at least 375 with fatal diseases. Doctors say the people of Libby will keep dying for decades.

This was the case, you'll recall, that put W.R. Grace out of business:
Saying it can't handle the flood of asbestos personal-injury lawsuits, W.R. Grace & Co. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Because of the filing, taxpayers may get stuck with millions of dollars for cleaning up sites contaminated by the 150-year-old company.

... "This doesn't come as a surprise. We've known that Grace was going to use the legal system to get out of its responsibility to the hundreds of people their actions have sickened or killed in Libby," says Gayla Benefield, whose parents both died from exposure to asbestos contaminating the ore at Grace's nearby vermiculite mine.

"There are hundreds of people in Libby who are relying on Grace's promise to pay their medical bills for treatment of the diseases caused by the asbestos and they have no idea what (the bankruptcy) will mean to their future," Benefield said.

Yep, those lawsuits sound pretty damned frivolous to me.

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