WASHINGTON – The official who handled a major Sept. 11 compensation fund (search) said Thursday a similar effort should be made to limit asbestos (search) liability lawsuits, a legislative priority this year for Republicans.
Kenneth Feinberg, who ran the $7 billion government compensation program for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, scolded Congress for not taking action on the large number of asbestos claims working through the court system.
"It's a scandal that they haven't passed an asbestos statute yet," Feinberg told a forum sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.
Feinberg said asbestos cases are unique because there are so many claims that companies facing the lawsuits simply don't have enough money to pay them all.
Feinberg faced strong criticism over program rules at the outset of the Sept. 11 compensation fund, but he was generally praised by the time it shut down last summer. He has done similar work on more conventional mass litigation claims, including asbestos and the Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange (search).
Advocates for limiting liability lawsuits contend the response to Sept. 11 claims may provide a benchmark for resolving massive class-action lawsuits (search) over products like asbestos or prescription drugs.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, (search) R-Pa., is pushing legislation to ban asbestos liability lawsuits in exchange for a multibillion-dollar compensation fund.
Specter has said the goal is to put a stop to the stream of lawsuits over asbestos that drives companies out of business and leaves victims with little help to pay medical bills.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used often until the mid-1970s in insulation and fireproofing material. The fibers can cause cancer and other ailments when inhaled.