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ASLRRA: Legislation proposing a federal asbestos-claim court, payment system won't affect short lines


Last month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2003 or the FAIR Act (S. 1125), which would establish a special federal court for hearing workers' asbestos claims and a trust fund to pay awards.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill June 19, according to American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association's (ASLRRA) bi-weekly newsletter released June 17.

The FAIR Act would create a federal "Court of Asbestos Claims" which would evaluate claims and make awards based on a schedule of benefits ranging from asymptomatic exposure ($0) to mesothelioma ($750,000).

Awards would be paid from an "Asbestos Injury Claims Resolution" trust fund stockpiled by certain parties' settlement, judgment, defense, or indemnity costs, and some insurance carriers' claim payments.

Common-carrier railroad expenditures for asbestos claims brought under Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) would not be treated the same as those for non-railroad companies, ASLRRA said.

Railroads that have prior FELA asbestos expenditures exceeding $5 million would make payments only if their annual revenue exceeds $500 million.

"Since that excludes short line railroads by definition, short lines would enjoy the immunity of the FAIR Act without having to make contributions to the fund," ASLRRA said.