Asbestos suits killing companies and jobs and opportunity

The SE Texas Record Apr. 30, 2010, 5:39pm

Let us observe a moment of silence for another productive member of our society that has passed away.

It was a company, not a human being, but it provided livelihood for hundreds of men and women, useful products and services for millions more.

Durabla Manufacturing, a Pennsylvania-based maker of sealing products, recently died after a long illness caused by asbestos lawsuits -- 108,000 suits in 30 years. A notice of bankruptcy, delivered to U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno of Philadelphia on April 12th, served as the death certificate.

Death by asbestos lawsuit is an increasingly common form of fatality for otherwise healthy American corporations. Durabla is the 89th company to suffer such a fate in the last 28 years. Other victims include Lykes Bros. Steamship, Babcock & Wilcox, Pittsburgh Corning, W.R. Grace, Kaiser Aluminum and Congoleum.

To say the death of these companies was senseless would be an understatement. Millions of employees were put out of work when the companies went under, millions of shareholders saw their investments destroyed, and alleged victims of asbestos exposure received a pittance for claimed injuries. Plaintiffs attorneys, such Beaumont's Walter Umphrey -- one of the pioneers of asbestos litigation -- did exceedingly well.

What's the logic of that?

Several years ago, senior U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, noticing the upward trend in asbestos lawsuits, warned that "every company with even a remote connection to asbestos may be driven into bankruptcy."

Do you realize how many tens of thousands of companies in America have a remote connection to asbestos? Do you have any idea how many employees would lose their jobs and how many shareholders would lose their investments if every such company succumbed to death by asbestos lawsuit?

A person with genuine injuries resulting from another party's negligence deserves redress, but asbestos lawsuits aren't providing much of that. The suits seem to be enriching a predatory few while being ruinous to the lives of millions.

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