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Finally taking a stand in a long-running debate, the American Bar Association has decided to back limits on asbestos suits. At its February midyear meeting, the ABA voted to support federal legislation that would set strict medical criteria for asbestos claimants seeking compensation. Among the requirements: Potential plaintiffs could not sue because of mere exposure to asbestos and would have to develop cancer before they could bring an action. However, the ABA also called for the elimination of the statute of limitations on asbestos suits, which would allow individuals to bring an action at any time if they did become ill. Asbestos litigation has put more than 60 companies in bankruptcy since 2000 and threatens to run a total tab of about $265 billion. Congress is widely expected to take up reform legislation this year. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are working on a consensus bill to address the problem. The ABA vote gives a boost to advocates, including the National Association of Manufacturers, who have backed limitations on asbestos suits. But the bar group also alienated many of its trial lawyer members with its move. In remarks prepared for the ABA meeting, Mary Alexander, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, said, “Those who are sick, but not dying, would be denied.”

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