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VS: crisis rechtssysteem door asbestzaken

14-07-2005 00:00

Dit artikel beschrijft hoe claims ten gevolge van blootstelling aan asbest in de VS tot een crisis in het juridische systeem hebben geleid. Bedrijven gaan failliet door: rechters die dubieus medisch bewijs van blootstelling aan asbest accepteren, door het grote aantal schadevergoedingen aan mensen die wel met asbest hebben gewerkt, maar niet ziek zijn. En door de hoge juridische kosten. De echt zieke slachtoffers zijn daarvan de dupe. Bron: Brickman, L. & Shapiro, H.D (2005). Asbestos kills. National Review, 31 januari, 39-41.
"Asbestos kills And more than just people: jobs, ethics, and elementary justice L E S T E R B R I C K M A N & H A RV E Y D. S H A P I RO IT?S become a familiar scenario across the U.S.: A jovial air pervades this parking lot adjacent to a union hall that belies the serious purpose that has brought together a group of middle-aged men. For much of the afternoon they?ve been sipping coffee and waiting their turn to enter the trailer parked at one end of the parking lot. The trailer contains X-ray equipment, and they?re about to have their lungs checked for asbestos-related diseases. They?re here in response to postcards saying things like, ?You Might Have Million Dollar Lungs!? They know they?re entering a lottery, one in which a tiny few may find they have cancer but many more will find themselves perfectly healthy yet entitled to receive checks from 20 or 30 different companies totaling as much as $60,000?of course, that?s after their lawyers have deducted their 40 percent cut. For decades, scenes like this have been played out in the parking lots of hundreds of union halls, motels, and strip malls across America. For most Americans, asbestos litigation, like asbestos itself, is now a dimly remembered artifact of an earlier age. But despite 30 years of sweeping efforts to remove every trace of asbestos from American life, more than 100,000 new claims of asbestos-related diseases were filed in 2003?the most ever in a single year. While there was a sharp fall-off in nonmalignant claims filed in 2004, many experts anticipate that hundreds of thousands of additional claims will yet be brought, joining the 850,000 that have already come forward. GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN After years of asbestos-removal programs, prominent medical researchers Kevin Browne, Edward A. Gaensler, and Andrew Churg have called asbestosis a ?disappearing disease,? and a condition that is ?exceedingly rare.? So how is it that thousands and thousands of claims continue to be filed? This is a question the new Congress is likely to be asking, because of the increased power of Republican critics of trial lawyers. Asbestos could become the poster child for tort reform. As one leading medical expert on asbestos-related diseases, Dr. James Crapo, has said, claimants are being compensated ?for illnesses that, according to the clear weight of medical evidence, either are not caused by asbestos or do not result in a significant impairment?i.e., are not generally regarded by the medical profession as an illness.? Yet asbestos lawyers continue their vigorous pursuit of potential claimants?not just through labor unions, but also through radio and TV ads and the Internet. So far, employers and their insurers have paid out over $70 billion?with more than half of that sum going to those who have either no injury or no proof that asbestos caused their injury. (That, of course, leaves far less to be paid to those who are truly suffering as a result of terrible asbestos-related injuries.) An additional $150 billion is likely to be required before the asbestos gods have been satiated. So far, some 8,400 companies have been sued