The Supreme Court on June 24, 1999 as expected threw out a $1.5 billion
asbestos agreement between Fibreboard and a cadre of plaintiffs lawyers.
The decision was good news for asbestos victims who can now seek redress
in the court system for their injuries. It was bad news for big corporations
who injure scores of consumers and worker and later seek to cap their
The justices ruled that a federal judge in Texas wrongly approved a $1.5
billion settlement among Dallas-based Fibreboard, its insurers and about
186,000 people with asbestos-related health claims. Fibreboard is a subsidiary
of Owens Corning Fiberglass.
But don't rejoice just yet. The Court also stressed throughout the
opinions the need for "national legislation." Not coincidentally,
a bill is pending before Congress now -- the so-called "Fairness
in Asbestos Compensation Act" -- that is far worse than the class
action just declared void.
Already we are seeing television commercials touting the proposed "national
legislation." But do not be misled. The Hyde Bill now pending would
again deprive victims of their right to use the court system, it would
again bail out the asbestos companies, it would severely limit the damages
available, it would create strict eligibility criteria that would automatically
invalidate 80% of all claimants, it would shift the cost of asbestos disease
from the manufacturers to the employers and taxpayers, and
IT IS NOT EVEN SUPPORTED BY FIBREBOARD, OWENS CORNING FIBERGLASS, W. R. GRACE and
OWENS ILLINOIS -- the last three of whom are defendants in thousands of cases now pending.