The trust would end all asbestos lawsuits and instead pay people with asbestos-related diseases according to a set payment schedule. The fund, whose cost has been estimated at $70 billion to $170 billion, would be financed by insurance companies and businesses and administered by the federal government.
The compromise, which sets the medical standards for receiving money from the fund, was reached unexpectedly early yesterday.
Despite yesterday’s agreement, passage of the bill is far from certain. Labor, business and insurers remain at odds on several other important issues, including the amount of the payouts and the total size of the fund.
“A major hurdle was cleared, but there are a couple of steep hills yet to climb,” said Joel Johnson a spokesman for the Asbestos Study Group, an association of about a dozen large companies, including General Electric and General Motors, that strongly favor a trust.
The fund is a top priority for big businesses and insurers, which face hundreds of thousands of lawsuits from people who say they have been injured by asbestos. A fund could also benefit victims, who now must wait years to receive payments and must give as much as 40 percent of their settlements to lawyers.