Murray Urges ABA to Delay Decision and Consider Expert Input on Asbestos Litigation

Feb 10 2003

In a letter to Dennis Archer, Murray warns against hastily implemented medical standards

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - In a letter to the President-Elect of the American Bar Association, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today urged the organization to delay a decision on implementing new medical standards for victims of asbestos-related diseases.

The ABA's proposed standards, which are designed to significantly limit asbestos litigation, were compiled without the input of medical and workplace experts who have first-hand experience with the devastating effects of asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana.

A copy of Murray's letter to the ABA follows:

February 10, 2003

Mr. Dennis Archer President-Elect American Bar Association 750 North Lake Shore Drive Chicago, Illinois 60611-3152

Dear Mr. Archer:

I am very concerned that the American Bar Association (ABA) is about to make a hasty decision that could affect millions of Americans who have been exposed to asbestos. I fear the ABA's Commission on Asbestos Litigation has not adequately considered critical input from important medical, public health and industrial hygiene experts. I strongly suggest that the ABA delay reaching a decision this week on the Commission's Report to the House of Delegates and use whatever time is necessary to make its deliberations more inclusive. Otherwise, the ABA's recommendations will be less credible when Congress considers them.

For the past few years, I have been working on asbestos issues in the United States Senate. Like most people, I thought asbestos had been banned years ago. But in 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a series of articles about the ongoing use of asbestos and a disturbing trend in Libby, Montana. As is now widely known, Libby residents suffer from abnormally high rates of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma from decades of exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Since then, I have introduced legislation to finally ban asbestos, to begin a public education campaign and to increase research on asbestos diseases.

Given my longstanding interest in this issue, I'm sure you can understand my reaction when leaders of the medical and labor communities told me they had not been adequately consulted by the Commission. Federal public health officials and those responding to the crisis in Libby do not appear to have been given the chance to provide input on the medical standards the House of Delegates is considering this week.

Congressional leaders have indicated asbestos litigation reform legislation will be a high priority in the 108th Congress. While it is appropriate for the ABA to assert itself in this important debate, I believe the ABA's ability to effectively and credibly influence this dialogue will be weakened because of the controversy surrounding the process the Commission used to craft its recommendations.

I ask you to delay the House of Delegate's vote on the proposed medical standards. Before the ABA takes a final position, I encourage you to take the time necessary to gather input from experts.

Mr. Archer, you and your delegates have the power to ensure the ABA maintains a credible voice in the asbestos litigation reform debate in Congress, which has implications millions of Americans. Thank you.


Patty Murray U.S. Senator