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Senators back quick pay to asbestos sickest

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Senators back quick pay to asbestos sickest


May 11, 2005 — WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The sickest asbestos victims would be paid the quickest under changes approved on Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee to legislation to create a $140 billion compensation fund.

The voice vote came as the committee continued to refine a bill to take asbestos injury claims out of the courts and pay them from a fund to be financed by asbestos defendant companies and their insurers.

Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, and the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, were working through dozens of proposed amendments as they tried to gain enough support from panel colleagues to send the legislation to the Senate floor.

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The panel adjourned later on Wednesday. Further meetings were planned for Thursday and next week, with the aim of finishing the bill by the end of the month, Specter said.

Asbestos fibers have been used in building materials, auto parts and other products for decades but are linked to cancer and other diseases. Hundreds of thousands of injury claims have forced many companies into bankruptcy.

At the urging of California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee voted to include deadlines in the legislation for payments to the most seriously ill victims.

Victims of mesothelioma, a particularly lethal cancer of the chest lining — who are entitled to $1.1 million each from the fund — would be paid within 30 days from the time their claims are approved by the fund's administrator or within six months from the date the claims are filed, whichever comes first.

The fund administrator could extend those deadlines to six months and 11 months, respectively, if the volume of claims required it. Similar deadlines were set for other terminally ill victims, such as people suffering from lung cancer.

Feinstein said the administrator had to be given the flexibility to extend the deadlines somewhat because although she expected sufficient start-up money to be coming into the fund, no one knew how many claims would flood in initially.

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