Washington, D.C., July 19 The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) is ratcheting up its work and grassroots advocacy on the growing asbestos-litigation problem that has insurance companies and business inexorably in the crosshairs, announces President Thomas B. Ahart, CPCU, AAI.
"The litigation landscape is changing dramatically. More insurance companies are bearing a larger load of the cost to defend and settle asbestos-contamination lawsuits,” says Ahart, president of Ahart, Frinzi & Smith Insurance in Phillipsburg, N.J. “As the major businesses caught up in the litigation maze have gone bankrupt, trial lawyers are looking to new defendants and their insurance companies for settlements. Many companies have a dubious connection to asbestos, but this fact has not deterred the thirst of plaintiff lawyers for the deepest pockets to pay judgments—namely insurance companies.”
“As an integral part of the insurance industry, agents and brokers cannot sit on the sidelines while this issue rages around us,” explains IIABA CEO Robert A. Rusbuldt. “We must become engaged in the escalating asbestos-litigation issue before it impacts our businesses through yet-unforeseen circumstances, such as diminished underwriting capacity in a range of markets offered through our insurance company partners.”
Many businesses—from large corporations to even some mom-and-pop operations—are finding themselves as asbestos defendants for the first time, and by extension their insurance companies are being pulled into the litigation abyss. A recent New York Times article states that businesses and their insurance companies have spent more than $30 billion to defend and settle asbestos lawsuits, but that pales to the predicted total payout in excess of $250 billion that many industry analysts foresee.
Since pursuing uninsured defendants could be uncertain and unprofitable, trial lawyers are targeting insurers and the reserves they have set aside for potential asbestos claims. The goal of this concerted effort is to find ways to increase the insurance industry’s share of the total asbestos bill.
“The industry faces the prospect of defending 4,000 new cases, which could result in additional settlements of up to $40 billion,” explains Rusbuldt. “Along with its company counterparts, IIABA and its membership must work together to stem the sea tide of change that is taking place today.”
Rusbuldt says IIABA began its work on the asbestos issue when it recently joined the Asbestos Alliance, a coalition of businesses, associations and other groups, which is advocating a fair solution to the growing asbestos-litigation problem. The Alliance is working for congressional enactment of a legislative solution that ensures that those who are ill from exposure to asbestos-containing products are fairly compensated and helps keep defendant companies financially secure so they can pay present and future claims.
But that will not be the entire focus of the Association’s efforts on this issue. In the coming months, IIABA will forge coalitions with insurance, business and other groups interested in working cooperatively to fight attempts by trial lawyers to expand litigation and prolong the nightmare of defendants and their insurance companies.
“From our standpoint, it doesn’t matter if the groups are state-based or nationally focused organizations,” says Rusbuldt. “We will work with everyone who wants to bring a sense of rationality and reasonableness to asbestos litigation. The plaintiffs bar cannot be allowed to search for the flushest purse to satisfy their seemingly endless desire to push the asbestos issue to new and further heights.”
In addition, IIABA will increase the frequency of its message to Congress to enact legislation that establishes objective medical criteria for asbestos-related impairment so that ill and non-ill individuals can be identified in litigation, reforms statutes of limitation and other rules to remove incentives for premature filings, eliminates case consolidations that lead to quick settlements with healthy people, and eliminates “forum shopping” by plaintiff lawyers seeking the most-favorable courtroom to hear a case, says Rusbuldt.
“IIABA believes that grassroots America is an important component of this issue. We need to educate agents/brokers and the business community in general that there is a pending crisis brewing that could have dire consequences for agents/brokers and our business clients. Working together we can and will bring about a resolution that will be fair to all involved—plaintiffs, defendants and insurance companies—and the American economy,” asserts Rusbuldt.
Founded in 1896, IIABA is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—and employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com