From the March/April 2004 Issue

An Air that Kills
A letter from David S. Casey, Jr., President
Association of Trial Lawyers of America

As trial lawyers, our life's work and passion is under attack today as it never has been in the history of our country, with the ultimate goal of denying our clients-ordinary citizens-their day in court. Of course, special interests have been trying to subvert the civil justice system since the founding of our nation, but never before have they been so well-orchestrated and well-funded, and never have they had so many friends in high places.

Right now, the Administration and the majority leadership in Congress are pushing legislation on class action, medical malpractice limits, jury award caps, and asbestos legislation that would have a devastating impact.

We are even expecting to see legislation to impose federal no-fault auto insurance, under which good drivers will be forced to pay for bad drivers.

We've been fighting this battle for so long that it's easy to miss the breathtaking scope of this latest assault on the rights of our clients.

As their lawyers, we must defend these rights with every resource we can muster. A new book can help us do this.

The title and the subject are self-explanatory: An Air That Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal. The authors are veteran journalists David McCumber and Andrew Schneider, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

This book is an unimpeachably objective appraisal of the dangers of unfettered corporate power. It tells the truth. We need you to help get An Air That Kills into the hands of as many elected officials, community leaders, clients and friends as we possibly can. We need to tell them that so-called tort "reform" isn't reform at all. It's an effort to take away the legal rights of American families, piece by piece by piece-from asbestos bailouts to auto no-fault. The book can be purchased online or at your local bookstore.

While the book is about the asbestos tragedy, it is also, in a larger sense, about the necessity of preserving the legal rights of American families to hold all corporate wrongdoers accountable.

Libby, Montana, was the site of a vermiculite mine owned and operated until a dozen years ago by W. R. Grace. The vermiculite was contaminated with poisonous asbestos fibers, as the company knew. But what did W. R. Grace do? It covered up the fatal exposures caused by its enterprise. It failed to warn all the citizens of Libby that simply living in the town was dangerous. It did not inform all the hundreds, if not thousands, of companies around the country that the contaminated vermiculite their workers received and handled was extremely dangerous. And, of course, dozens of other asbestos companies and their insurers treated their innocent workers and American consumers with the same contempt.

In the end, the residents of Libby were finally able to use the legal system to hold W. R. Grace accountable for its actions. Hundreds of thousands of other asbestos victims have achieved the same goal.

The proposed legislation before Congress known as the Hatch bill would establish a new national trust fund for asbestos litigation, replacing the civil justice system with a fixed schedule of compensation funded by limited contributions from asbestos companies and their insurers, who would be forever free of further liability for asbestos poisoning. This bill is a corporate bailout, pure and simple.

An Air That Kills will help us inform legislators and ordinary citizens that our civil justice system is the only proven defense against the most powerful special interests in this country. Tort "reformers" hide behind the rallying cry of "personal responsibility" as they do the bidding of their masters, but a powerful rebuttal like An Air That Kills reminds everyone of the need for corporate responsibility and corporate accountability as well.

David S. Casey, Jr., President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, is a partner in the San Diego, CA, law firm of Casey, Gerry, Reed & Schenk

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