What Will Barack Obama's Role Be in Mass Tort Reform

Given that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) attempted to sneak through legislation intended to eliminate all further asbestos injury claims in 2005 under a more friendly Republican President, I wonder going forward if he will again try to pander to the corporations and special interests if he is re-elected in 2009. Further, will Barack Obama take a stance against corporate greed that includes allowing the tort system to function as it has?

I think to understand where the country is going from here in terms of tort reform, perhaps we should examine Specter's bill further. The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act (S.852, 2005) was essentially a trust fund that would be funded by asbestos corporations and their insurance companies that would pay out all further asbestos injury claims. However, upon closer examination, it is clear the victims interests were not in the minds of Specter and his corporate cronies. Let's look at a few of the flaws.

1.) Victims were paid out categorically as opposed to a judge and jury ruling on the extent of injury and providing commensurate compensation. Therefore, where victims of mesothelioma(a rare cancer caused only by exposure to asbestos) might have received $5-10 million by ruling of a judge, the trust funded provided only $1 million, which in most cases is not nearly enough to sustain a family and access mesothelioma treatment.

2.) The bill was dramatically underfunded, which essentially established a sunset on asbestos claims. So, even if you were eligible for a categorical payout years down the road, the fund would have already been spent.

This is just one of the examples of tort reforms attempted by Republicans under President Bush. What we need to ensure is that Sen. Specter is not allowed to bail out his deep-pocketed friends in the future. President Obama must keep a careful eye on tort reform and ensure that we leave justice in the hands of the courts and leave short-sighted policy out of the tort system.